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Blomstedt triumphs in BSO debut

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

Herbert Blomstedt was born in Springfield, but most of his distinguished career has been based in Europe, except for a notable decade as music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Currently music director of Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra, he is making his first appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall this week, although he did conduct the ensemble at Tanglewood in 1980.

Now 76, Blomstedt still looks like a bashful, towheaded kid summoning his courage to invite a date to the prom, but he conducts with precision, decision, and insight. The major orchestral work on the program was the Fourth Symphony by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). The Danish composer called the symphony "The Inextinguishable," and it is a musical celebration of the life force, or, as he wrote, "life and movement, but different, very different, but coherent, and as if always flowing in one great movement in a single stream."

The symphony, too, is in one great sweep of four interlocking movements, played without interruption. Both ideas and orchestration are unconventional but the invention and energy are unflagging, the sense of purpose unerring. The ideas lead to and reflect each other; the spotlight moves around the various sections of the orchestra. The slow movement, for example, features the woodwinds in a graceful passage that recalls folk music; the finale closes with the majestic fulfillment of a tune first heard near the start.

Many Americans first became aware both of Blomstedt and of the magnitude of Nielsen's accomplishment through the conductor's first recording of the complete cycle of symphonies on the budget Seraphim LP label. He leads "The Inextinguishable" with authority, experience, and imagination, and the experience is exhilarating. Although the BSO hasn't played the symphony in more than 15 years, the performance sounded confident, even radiant. Demon-drumming tympanists Timothy Genis and J. William Hudgins brought excitement and terror to the finale.

This week's soloist is pianist Peter Serkin returning to a central work of his repertoire, Mozart's G-Major Concerto, K. 453. He seemed nervous and unsettled in the first movement, but this artist never gives a thoughtless or unfeeling performance. He chose to work on a chamber-music scale throughout, interacting with the flute, oboe, and bassoon in particular. The slow movement was full of serene, searching serenity. Mozart based the finale on a birdsong, and Serkin sparkled through the witty variations. Blomstedt and the orchestra were attentive partners.

In a sense, the whole concert featured nature music, life-force music. Blomstedt opened with Mendelssohn's overture "The Fair Melusine," which is supposed to tell a terrible tale, but what we take away is pure delight in the rippling and scampering of the water music.

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