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EEven popes are retiring these days but, like the queen, Herbert Blomstedt goes on and on. The Swedish-American conductor is now 94 and his joints are visibly stiffer than they were as he enters and exits the stage, but Blomstedt remains incredibly lively. His control of the Philharmonia Orchestra – using his hands, not a stick – was unquestionable, and he conducted the entire evening without once sitting down.

The music of older conductors can sometimes be high or slow, sometimes both. No quality applies to Blomstedt. As with the late Bernard Haitink, his direction in old age radiates both fluidity and brilliance. Blomstedt neither forces nor underlines the music, he frees it. But the attention paid to pulse, phrasing and dynamics is unwavering. There is something to be learned from his handling of every transition in the score.

Maria João Pires proved an ideal partner for Blomstedt’s approach in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major K 488 before intermission. It was a communion between like-minded old school musicians, with no competition for effect. Themes and ideas passed without vanity. Pires’ touch of the keyboard is a constant reward, and his dialogue with the winds of the Philharmonie in the adagio was exemplary.

Blomstedt’s treatment of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, in the second half of the evening, epitomized his unified and understated approach. The long lines of the opening movement were allowed to unfold without sounding ominous. The transitions and climaxes of the adagio have emerged from the whole rather than being emphasized. Tempi were crisp and never allowed to sag, and the reading avoided the two Brucknerian pitfalls of over-emphasis and over-piety. Book now for his next visit.

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