Music review: BBC SSO

WE'RE used to hearing Dvorak's tuneful and deliciously Slavonic later symphonies, so it was refreshing to get a handle on the Czech composer's more nascent personal style that pokes wilfully through the Wagnerian shadows of the Fourth Symphony.

City Halls, Glasgow ***

This ended Thursday’s BBC SSO programme conducted by Matthias Pintscher, which had begun with the fervent Czech nationalism of the older Smetana – two movements from his symphonic poems Má Vlast – and the endearing tunefulness of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2: a hot-blooded sequence of European Romanticism which, it has to be said, never quite met expectations.

I loved the way Pintscher egged on the strings in Smetana’s musical river journey, Vltava, bringing an ethereal richness to the water nymphs scene, and a genuinely gutsy musical peasantry to the wedding polka. And in the wild and stormy Šárka, successive heads of steam filled our ears with scintillating waves of excitement.

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But Pintscher’s success lay only in momentary flashes, not in connecting them with a sufficiently broad sweep. There was a prevailing sense of instability in Vltava, which lacked overriding rhythmic precision.

The rhythmically shambolic opening few notes of the Chopin reiterated this issue, but the ensuing performance, enhanced by pianist David Kadouch’s flowery and poetic solo input, evolved with much greater confidence and warmth.

Pintscher’s reading of the Dvorak made a good case for its robust thematic experimentation, and the second movement’s recourse to the Wagnerian sound world was a comforting moment. But his symphony surely knits together more cogently than we witnessed here.


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