Belonging to an era of conductors of whom many are no longer with us, Herbert Blomstedt brought the benefits reaped from a lifetime’s affinity with music to the Usher Hall with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig 2 | Usher Hall, Edinburgh | Rating *****
In a conventionally modelled orchestral programme of overture, concerto, symphony, his constantly assured direction gave vibrant, fresh energy to the familiar sounds of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Premiered by the Gewandhausorchester in 1811, the Piano Concerto No 5, labelled the Emperor even though Beethoven didn’t give it this name, was the last he completed. In an ideal pairing, the orchestra and soloist András Schiff balanced each other in both weight and performing style. Phrasing flowed across all sections of the orchestra and piano, with unbroken clarity in the precision of their playing, delivering a striking breadth of shading to the music. Almost rooted to his spot on the podium, Blomstedt’s conducting is economical, yet his calm, unruffled approach is one which fires a pulsating forward-moving decisiveness, especially in the concerto’s last movement with the swing and swagger to its dancing theme.
Unlike Beethoven, Mendelssohn did give his Scottish Symphony its name. It was also premiered at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, with its Scottish inspired character pleasing the full house then as much as in Edinburgh. Again, and as in Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No 2 to start, the well-groomed consistency of balanced sound puts this orchestra in a class of its own.