United Kingdom Mozart and Bruckner: Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt (conduct0r), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 24.4.2016. (AS)
Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K543
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E flat, Romantic
Herbert Blomstedt has been a very infrequent visitor to UK concert platforms over the years, and on the evidence of this concert the loss has been very much ours. At 88 years old he is very sprightly, and he conducted the whole concert with unopened scores in front of him.
The Mozart symphony was sheer delight from beginning to end. The pointing of line and phrase was clear and precise, but there was also some expressive yielding at certain appropriate points – an ideal combination, in fact, of present-day and traditional approaches to the score. Tempi in the first two movements were quite brisk, but the music was nevertheless given plenty of time to breathe. The beat in the Minuet was one-in-a-bar, alert, yet graceful, especially in the trio. An ideally brisk tempo was struck in the last movement: the mood was light-hearted with an underlying firmness of structure.
The atmospheric opening to the Bruckner symphony was enchantingly realised, and as the music progressed the shape of phrasing, the plasticity of pulse, the shading of dynamics seemed absolutely ideal. It was a perfect instance of the overall design and arch of the movement being clearly presented, but in a fashion where its assimilation was almost subconsciously evident in the background while the various contrasting episodes were lovingly revealed in the foreground.
In the Andante there was a delightful sense of warmth and flow, the expression absolutely natural and unaffected. Accents were sharp and buoyant in the Scherzo, with a charming, dance-like trio. The programme note told us that the edition used was that of Leopold Nowak, published in 1953. Seasoned Brucknerites may have found one or two instances of the music going in a slightly unexpected direction during the finale, but no matter, since the overall argument of the movement was again clear, the pacing perfect, and the varied musical components were very well held together.
It was heartening to hear the Philharmonia in much better form that it has sometimes showed recently – the playing was of a high standard throughout the concert.
It was also interesting to experience the contrast in style of performance between this Bruckner Fourth and that of the Sixth Symphony, given under Sir Simon Rattle in the same hall two evenings previously. Whereas Rattle had put a great deal of energy into his conducting, working hard to get a strong, quite forceful response, Blomstedt simply seemed to let the music flow through him and express itself naturally without a great deal of effort on his part. It wasn’t really like that, of course, since his control must obviously have been as strong as that of Sir Simon.
The positive response of the orchestra was certainly clear at the end of the performance. There was no routine tapping of music stands: the players’ expression of appreciation towards Blomstedt was obviously warm and genuinely felt. One hopes that we shall have the chance to experience his wise and satisfying music making again before long – a Prom performance is in fact scheduled.