Music review: BBC SSO & Matthias Pintscher, City Halls, Glasgow

DURING Matthias Pintscher's eight years as artist-in-association with the BBC SSO, it's as a composer that he has been most interesting to observe. On Thursday, nearing the end of his SSO association, he conducted the UK premiere of his own cello concerto, 'un despertar', written two years ago for cellist Alisa Weilerstein and premiered last year by her with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Matthias Pintscher,  Artist in Association with the BBC SSO
Matthias Pintscher, Artist in Association with the BBC SSO

BBC SSO & Matthias Pintscher, City Halls, Glasgow ***

For this performance the soloist was Bruno Delepelaire, the lead cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic who has a growing reputation on the international circuit. In a work that defies conventional showmanship he elicited the often whispered virtuosity of Pintscher’s atmospheric mood piece with electrifying constraint.

Taking its inspirational cue from Octavio Paz’s poem of the same name (it means “an awakening”), “un destertar” exists in a world of semi-sleep. Underpinned by a surreal factory of percussion effects, the music rarely rises above a murmur, and when it does it is quickly extinguished. The cello is integral to this ethereal sound world, quietly effusive but protagonist nonetheless. Delepelaire captured its mercurial spirit beautifully.

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    Pintscher also conducted Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin and Mozart’s Symphony No 39, and seemed to approach these with the same timelessness that was so effective in his own piece. So while the dense orchestral timbres of the Ravel added warmth to the performance, it was often at the expense of Ravel’s crystalline sparkle and vitality.

    The Mozart suffered too from an ambivalence that observed the spaciousness of this symphony, but equally stifled some of its exuberance.