Music review: BBC SSO | SCO/Olari Elts

Matthias Pintscher had a rather cool, restrained approach to very vivid pieces full of drama. Picture: Contributed

Matthias Pintscher had a rather cool, restrained approach to very vivid pieces full of drama. Picture: Contributed

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IT SEEMED a bit odd for conductor Matthias Pintscher, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s artist in association, to have embarked on a programme of vivid musical storytelling when his rather cool, restrained approach didn’t exactly make a meal of the music’s drama.

BBC SSO/Matthias Pintscher

CITY HALLS, GLASGOW

****

It meant a polite, pastel-shaded Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande Suite to open the programme, immaculately articulated with an expert sense of tonal balance, but also hard to engage with emotionally, or as music originally written for the stage.

His Berlioz Symphonie fantastique – the psychedelic, opium-fuelled love story in music that formed the concert’s culmination – had its moments of explosive grandeur, not least in a tumultuous “March to the Scaffold”. But at other times – the third movement’s evocative shepherd calls echoing across a mountain valley, for example – it verged on feeling played rather than performed. True, Pintscher let Berlioz’s extraordinary orchestration speak for itself, with a delicious rawness to the BBC SSO’s playing and a delight in strange, unblended textures. But if you’d wanted gripping, you’d probably have had to make do with admirable.

Very gripping indeed, though, was the astonishing playing of young Spanish pianist Javier Perianes in Saint-Saëns’s rarely performed “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 Sometimes fiery, sometimes limpid, never less than thrillingly vivid, Perianes seemed to stand out in neon colour against Pintscher’s cool orchestral backdrops, and he made what’s a rather lightweight oddity sound profound and scintillating. It helped that he was a natural showman, big on charisma, but it was his impeccable technique and his effortless control of light and shade that really marked him out. An energetic, passionate performance, and the evening’s highlight.

DAVID KETTLE

Seen on 04.12.14

SCO/Olari Elts

USHER HALL, EDINBURGH

****

THE only victim of the SCO having to replace the indisposed Robin Ticciati with former principal guest conductor Olari Elts at the last minute this week was Webern’s Symphony, Op 21, which was dropped by Elts in favour of Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture.

That made this programme a rather pleasing, all-Beethoven feast: that is, if you discounted the Mozart violin sonata that served as a quirky encore to pianist Francesco Piemontesi’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, for which he was joined by SCO guest leader, Shunske Sato.

The concerto itself was delivered much as the preceding overture and ensuing Symphony No 4, a combination of lyrical refinement and punchy rhythmic definition. Piemontesi’s approach was slick and expressive, though this was frustrated at times by a lack of clarity in figurative passages, and the odd inconsistency in tone control.

But the overall rapport between him and Elts was genuine, possessing the same immediacy and incendiary clout that also characterised Elts’s explosive “Coriolan” and no-nonsense reading of the Fourth Symphony.

Much of that explosiveness came from the timpanist, whose untamed prominence was, on the one hand, the driving force behind the momentum; but in the case of the symphony’s final cadence, like a musical two-finger salute.

Despite that, and an unfortunate mishap with the natural horns in the Menuetto, Elts made his impromptu appearance a highly entertaining, highly intoxicating, even at times very beautiful experience. He has a charisma that is boyish and ebullient. It certainly came over.

KEN WALTON

Seen on 03.12.14

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