Herbert Blomstedt was born 30 years after Brahms died, and there is no mistaking the mystique and sense of communion his performances and recordings have brought these last few years, as the pandemic has allowed, with his farewell tours at the world’s greatest halls with the world’s greatest orchestras. I saw two of those concerts, with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg and Grafenegg festivals. He conducted without a baton, his feet planted implacably on the podium, and never once did he open the score. His performances have a sense of cosmic breadth and inevitability infused with Viennese sound built over the strings.
Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Herbert Blomstedt, cond.
His completion of the Brahms cycle with the Leipzig orchestra has a relaxed human touch, seemingly not conscious of maintaining a “sound”; here it is the orchestra that is putting itself at the service of the conductor. The interpretations are intimate and personal, the famous old hall is recorded with a striking sense of dimensionality and superb clarity by Pentatone, and the effect is totally embracing.
Blomstedt’s Third is light and lyrical—a young man’s Brahms—fresh and verdant. He is careful to set tempos that give the extraordinary orchestra full measure. The horn solos in particular are superb for their beauty and the way they blend into the orchestral fabric. The big peroration in the last movement is surprisingly casual but in line with the conductor’s gentle vision. The Fourth, by contrast, is broad-shouldered, measured, and powerful. It never surges when it can consolidate, and by the Passacaglia becomes sluggish, ending uncertainly with the flute solo beautifully played but lost in the flow.