Germany Beethoven, Schubert: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert Blomstedt (conductor). Livestreamed on Digital Concert Hall from the Philharmonie Berlin, 1.10.2022. (GT)
Schubert – Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200
Beethoven – Symphony No.7 in A major, Op.92
This was the only concert for Herbert Blomstedt this season at Berlin’s Philharmonie, and we should be thankful that he led this concert following his fall and hospitalisation just a few days after his 95th birthday in July. Thankfully after returning to Stockholm for a series of concerts, he was able to conduct this evening of Viennese classics.
In his enlightening pre-concert interview, Blomstedt said ‘Schubert was a fan of Beethoven, yet Schubert was very shy’ and only met Beethoven once. ‘In my youth I tried to compose string quartets. I had a wonderful idea for ten bars, but I couldn’t develop it as I had no training, I was just a schoolboy. I consciously tried to imitate Beethoven in order to find a way to continue but this didn’t work. Schubert knew this, and so never imitated Beethoven. Despite this, he wrote works at the end of his life that are so great that they are the equal of Beethoven’s. Only with one symphony did he find it necessary to draw a comparison with Beethoven and this is in the ‘Great’ C major Symphony. There is nothing like Beethoven in this symphony, it’s all Schubert and it’s genuinely great. Brahms once said that Schubert must have been shocked every morning when he discovered he had so much talent. If you have so much talent, there comes a time when you have to apply the brakes. Schubert is a great miracle. There is always something new to discover here, I can say that after my fairly long life as a musician Schubert remains a challenge! You can never really get to the bottom of his music. You can only keep searching. You may find something but it’s never the whole truth. It’s wonderful that such music exists.’
The opening movement of the Schubert symphony began with an arresting note leading to a graceful passage in which Blomstedt allowed the woodwind full rein, most notably the clarinet of Matic Kuder, and the flute of Egor Egorkin, and stirringly enhanced by the glorious horns! In the Allegretto the calm pastoral idiom was highlighted by outstanding playing from Kuder. In the Menuetto the mood was upbeat, and the boisterous Trio was decorated with delightfully vibrant Ländler. Despite sitting on a chair, Blomstedt is still the same conductor with his gracefully expressive arms, and with every sentiment expressed in his eyes, and on occasion, a smile. The Presto vivace was breathless, and refreshing in its excitement, through especially virtuoso contributions from the horn of Paula Ernesaks, and it was nice to see how much the players enjoyed the intoxicating originality of Schubert’s music in their smiles. After the final bars, Blomstedt – acknowledging the response of the audience – applauded his players, calling out musicians of the orchestra with a few subtle finger movements and a smile to the delight of the packed audience.
As Blomstedt said of the Beethoven Seventh in his interview: ‘There’s so much music that you can never understand it at an initial hearing. I always compare it to today’s pop music with its repeat of one or two notes and this rhythm … Sometimes it’s almost imbecilic, simply a repeated note. The repetition has a hypnotic effect. Today’s pop musicians know this of course, and they use it consciously in order to make an impression. Beethoven knew this too. But many of Beethoven’s colleagues said that he shouldn’t be doing this. Weber, for instance said that “Beethoven was ripe for the madhouse.” It’s no longer possible to respect him. In the final movement, it’s repeated several hundred times. This has naturally a hypnotic effect on the audience, and it explodes at the end with applause. […] There are places where he clings obsessively to a particular rhythm and listeners are so emotionally exhausted that they surrender and capitulate before this music. […] But there’s a particular reason why Beethoven repeats this so often: he wanted to coax the maximum emotion out of his audience. […] I love playing the Seventh Symphony. I think it’s an inspired work. It has a richness that you don’t initially recognise, especially not the “normal” audience, which is more attracted to the rhythm with its hypnotic effect.’
The opening of the Beethoven symphony was splendidly characterized by Mayer’s oboe and Kuder’s clarinet leading to a mood of expectation with this astonishing virtuosity mixing excitement and suspense. The Allegretto started with a grave funereal theme, as if mourning the passing of a great man, here Blomstedt sculpted the dynamics of the music with his hands and often used his fingers to conjure every nuance of the music.
In the Presto – Trio Blomstedt evinced a sequence of exciting and dynamic playing, again exemplified by fine playing from Mayer and Egorkin’s flute and creating splendid contentment as the idea merged with the bassoons and horns in delightful musical playing. The finale (Allegro) demonstrated exciting playing with the Berlin Philharmonic’s musicians veritably playing out of their skins for the conductor heralding the celebratory mesmerising bars leading to the tremendous climax. At the end, the audience rose in an ovation for this great conductor.