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S & H International Concert Review

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, "Jupiter", Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Herbert Blomstedt, Conductor, Carnegie Hall, New York City, February 15th, 2004 (BH)

While your writer completely respects Mozart, he does not even own a recording of the Jupiter Symphony, just to be completely candid with the shameful truth. While I would hear the Concertgebouw play pretty much anything, I was not particularly excited when this somewhat pedestrian-sounding programme was announced. (Please refer to the rant in article on the previous night’s concert.)

But the results on Sunday afternoon spoke for themselves. Using no podium, no stick, and no score (actually, no scores appeared for anything in either of the two concerts), Blomstedt stood in the center of the Mozart-sized orchestra at eye-level with the musicians, and directing with his hands, only enhanced the feeling of intimacy and joyfulness. As with the Beethoven the night before, the work seemed perfectly proportioned, with nothing egregiously pulled out of shape or experimented on – just a lucid account of an elegantly assembled piece, with the Concertgebouw’s peerless musicians creating a warm bath of sound that made one just want to dive right in. If you want to hear this warhorse, this is probably how you should hear it.

Speaking of warhorses, a strong performance of a classic can be valuable because it encourages you to live in the moment, no matter how many times you may have heard the piece in question. For a little while you can completely forget previous outings and are not tempted to anticipate future ones, because what you are hearing now completely overtakes you, and that is exactly what happened with this entertaining Brahms First Symphony. Regaining a podium and a baton, Blomstedt led the first movement in a way that was almost angry but not quite, with strong, gutsy playing like an afternoon thunderstorm. Concertmaster Alexander Kerr ended the second movement with a sweetly nostalgic violin solo, and his heavenly finesse was one of the highlights of the day. And in the movement marked Un poco allegretto e grazioso, flutist Emily Beynon and clarinetist Jacques Meertens gracefully showed why some think the Concertgebouw has the world’s finest woodwind section.

In the dramatic final movement, I challenge any music lover to resist when the huge, warm-hearted main theme strides into view, especially after the chorale that was so nobly announced by the orchestra’s trio of trombones, Ivan Meylemans, Jörgen van Rijen and Bart Claessens. The broad and enticing conclusion was again, beautifully paced and had all parts of Brahms’ lovely orchestration audible, right up through the muscular conclusion that pretty much brought the house down. The encore, a bracing account of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, sent everyone away quite happy including the musicians, who seemed to enjoy working with Blomstedt a great deal.

Now, Maestro Blomstedt, with all due respect: Please, next time, how about giving us one of those Nielsen symphonies?

Bruce Hodges




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