The Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt is a phenomenon - as he approaches his 88th birthday, he is one of the oldest conductors in the world. And yet: on the rostrum he embodies such a vitality and energy, such dynamism and love of music-making, that he at once enthralls his musicians as well as his audiences. The Herkulessaal of the Residence in Munich sets the scene for Blomstedt, deemed the champion of Scandinavian composers, to direct the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in two symphonies that could scarcely be less alike: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and Symphony No. 5 by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Premiered in 1922, Nielsen’s symphony is an idiosyncratic work, branded by the First World War and its horrors, shaped by the struggle between tenderness and annihilation. A gentle ripple in the violas gives way to the march beat imposed by the kettledrum. The percussion, the warmonger in the orchestral ensemble, is led by the side drum. Again and again it breaks the spell of idyllic moments, eventually mutating into anarchy and threatening the discipline of the whole ensemble. Familiar with the conductor from years of working together, the
orchestra plays the work of Denmark’s most significant composer with concentrated intensity, honouring Nielsen in his 150th anniversary year and wonderfully bringing out the contrasts with Beethoven’s Fourth, itself the “epitome of Classical balance” (BR Klassik). Compelling in Nielsen, Blomstedt is equally successful in calling up from Beethoven’s “mysteriously murmuring Adagio introduction an unforeseen tension” (BR Klassik).