At 90, Blomstedt brings youthful vitality to Mozart program with BSO

February 23, 2018 at 12:16 pm

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Herbert Blomstedt conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in an all-Mozart program Thursday night. Photo: Robert Torres

Herbert Blomstedt conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in an all-Mozart program Thursday night. Photo: Robert Torres

Herbert Blomstedt returned to the Boston Symphony Orchestra podium Thursday night leading an all-Mozart program. The nonagenarian conductor directed performances of three symphonies, nos. 34, 36 (Linz), and 41 (Jupiter). The big-boned performances were decidedly old-school, featuring a healthy contingent of strings, and not skimping on vibrato.

It’s a lot of music, all sharing a common key of C major, and resulted in a bit of harmonic stasis, especially over the concert’s first half. (The Jupiter Symphony’s structural invention and richer harmonic palette brought some variety to the second.)

But there was nothing sleepy or complacent about the readings themselves. Quite the opposite. They were lithe, athletic, and texturally lucid. This was, in a phrase, some of the most energetic Mozart the BSO has played recently. And that’s largely thanks to Blomstedt, whose crisp, economical gestures kept the orchestra on its toes.

In general, his concept of the composer is admirable. He doesn’t approach the music as a porcelain relic that can only be experienced through protective glass. In his hands, it’s more of a stainless-steel pot, something that can stand high heat and that you can drop on the floor without worrying that it will break.

Accordingly, on Thursday night he pushed tempos. Dynamics extremes were exaggerated, sometimes beyond what’s written in the scores. Accents and sforzandi were hammered out. This wasn’t quite Mozart-as-Beethoven, but it was headed in that direction, and that proved a healthy thing.

The music responded to Blomstedt’s prodding by moving with distinct purpose and seething with energy. There were fleeting moments of scrappy ensemble, most of which improved as the night went on.

The characteristic refined Mozartean elegance was still there and especially evident in the slow movements. The dances – the minuets of the Linz and Jupiter symphonies and the finale of No. 34 – largely romped. And, while tempos were vigorous, Blomstedt never lost sight of the melodic line, which was always focused and thoughtfully shaped.

In the Jupiter symphony, this made for a reading that was fluid and colorful. The woodwind writing, especially in the flowing second movement, sang warmly. In the outer movements, the brass playing had an invigorating, spunky edge. The string lines, whether lyrical or staccato, sounded fervently.

Thursday’s account of the piece was organic, with the motives and gestures that connect several of its movements clearly woven together. And, expressively, it was joyful and unpretentious, the contrapuntal wizardry of the finale coming across with easy brilliance and the noble first movement exuding warmth and playfulness as much as solemnity.

Echoes of the Jupiter Symphony were apparent in both of the night’s preceding works.

The relatively obscure Symphony no. 34 opens with a similar fanfare gesture as the Jupiter’s first movement and boasts a correspondingly soaring, if rather more conventionally shaped, slow movement.As in the later work, the BSO’s account of this one was rhythmically taut and lovingly shaped, especially the middle part of the songful second movement, with its divided writing for violins (placed, this week, across the podium from one another) and sudden dynamic contrasts.

The Linz symphony was similarly light on its feet. The first movement introduction was no-nonsense, moving with a steady, purposeful tread. The main part of the allegro gamboled robustly, while the second movement Siciliana was graceful and, in its second-half turn to the minor mode, passionate. As in the Jupiter, the minuet flowed with remarkable lightness and the exuberant finale, while a bit breathless, didn’t lack for agility.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday (Moritz Gnann conducting on Tuesday) at Symphony Hall.; 888-266-1200

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment