in: Reviews

February 23, 2018

Mozart Masterworks with Cordial Grace

by

Herbert Blomstedt conducted last night. (Robert Torres photo)

Multi-dimensional. Crystalline. Revelatory. The list of superlatives could continue longer than last evening’s BSO offering of an all-Mozart program under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt. The concert was as much a celebration of a conductor as it was a composer, and the two collaborated exquisitely.

One was surprised to learn that this year Blomstedt celebrates his 90th birthday; the cordial and stately man of the podium led the young composer’s masterworks with grace and exactness, demanding the utmost in textural clarity while reveling in their playful exuberance in a way that only the experienced soul, in life and music, can.

The program consisted of the three of Mozart’s mature symphonies in C major (Nos. 34, 36, and 41). Reduced strings aided the clarity of the works (though additional players strengthened the sections for the more massive Jupiter), as did the seating of antiphonal violins, with cellos and basses neighbors to the firsts and violas to the seconds.

Symphony 34 opened as if out of nowhere, a delightful spark of spontaneity that would continue to surprise throughout the program. The clarity of texture that would become the most refreshing feature of a beautifully performed program was evident from the start, with the violas easily audible amid the ensemble, even when divided. In the strings-only second movement, Blomstedt’s gentle but sure gestures were akin to a master chef massaging dough, knowing precisely the amount of leaven each section needed to rise. The proliferation of coughing after its conclusion proved how the audience was completely taken along for the ride, forgetting banal reflexes while glimpsing the sublime. The final Allegro of the minuet-less symphony had everyone in the ensemble, including nimble basses, popping the champagne corks. The only slight tarnish on this fine vessel were occasional spots of less-than-rhythmically-perfect unison passages, but with the gift of the symphony so well rendered all was forgiven.

Mozart’s Linz Symphony, sketched, written, rehearsed and premiered in four days, rounded out the first half. The adagio introduction moved with purpose, and again transparency was the hallmark – details like an oboe joining a string line in unison for a few notes, often blended as a mere reinforcement, here was distinctive in the most charming way. Blomstedt’s conjuring hands, now martial, now gracious, impelled the orchestra, here indicating space, there vacating it. The trio in the minuet shone like the center gem in a setting, and the final Presto was airy, not frantic. Again, everything just worked, a result not only of the BSO’s obvious mastery and willingness to help concretize a conductor’s vision, but the ability of the visionary to bring his colleagues along through gentle authority, learned experience, and a religious devotion to realizing a composer’s vision, regardless of how well-known the pieces are.

The second half belonged to Jupiter, that apotheosis of the classical symphony. In such a  multi-layered work, the qualities that Blomstedt brought to the BSO – clarity, grace, line and form – were elevated from paramount to essential. The opening Allegro vivace grew organically like a baroque church, with every space decorated with harmonious elaborations. At the close of the Andante cantabile, a symphony in itself, Blomstedt’s gestures called to mind the sorcerer at the end of Mickey’s Fantasia adventure (and one would be forgiven to think, “who is this that the wind and seas obey him?”). The minuet descended from the heavens; the monumental finale likewise exulted from the top down.

It was an experience more than a concert, more than hearing familiar repertoire in a fresh way. The evening was an exploration of the depths of meaning and feeling, and a vision of the possibilities that arise in the pursuit of perfection. Moreover, it was an inspiration that we can and should seek out these depths and explore these possibilities in the everyday masterpieces that surround us.

Patrick Valentino, a graduate of New England Conservatory, is a Boston based conductor, composer, performer and author. More information can be found at his website.

4 Comments

  1. Just a couple of sidelights.

    It was amazing that there was virtually no coughing during the slower and quieter parts of any of the symphonies on Thursday evening.

    Maestro Blomstedt recognized the solo work of the principal oboe and bassoon in the “Linz” by inviting them to take solo bows when he returned to the stage after the piece. As Maestro Blomstedt was leaving the stage again, Richard Sebring took a handkerchief and reached across the aisle and mopped Richard Svoboda’s brow.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 23, 2018 at 2:40 pm

  2. Maestro Blomstedt (on Friday) recognized all the repeats, with slightly greater emphasis in final cadences. The end of the “Jupiter” was a polyphony demonstration.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — February 23, 2018 at 4:56 pm

  3. I was prepared to feel “meh” at yet another performance of “these everyday masterpieces.” The “Jupiter” had begun to bore me in recent years. Your review explains beautifully what was so special about these performances: “clarity, grace, line and form” with such intense perfection that it was as though I had never heard the “Jupiter” before. The last moments of the final movement were indeed revelatory. Thank you for perfectly capturing in words the magic of these performances.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — February 24, 2018 at 12:17 pm

  4. I grew up in the Cleveland area and was weaned, as it were, by George Szell, for me the greatest conductor of all. This was the first time since Szell’s death in 1970 that I could imagine “the old man,” as we used to refer to him, on the podium. The performances were that good.

    Comment by Allan Kohrman — February 25, 2018 at 7:08 pm

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