Music review: Pierre Boulez: A Festival Celebration

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Pierre Boulez who died in January, defined the 20th-century musical avant-garde, notably as intellectual rabble-rouser in his iconic compositions of the 1940s/50s, but equally as conductor of the music he principally admired, Debussy and Berg among his primary influences.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Usher Hall

In this tribute, Matthias Pintscher – who, himself, operates a dual existence as composer/conductor – directed the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a programme representative of Boulez and his influences, delivered as the ever-disapproving Frenchman would have approved: with intellectual directness and a keen ear for colour and texture.

The two Boulez works that framed the evening – Don (No 1 of his exquisite Malarmé-inspired Pli selon Pli) and Mémoriale (for flute and small chamber ensemble derived from the so-called “kit” material of …explosante-fix) acted like customised gift wrap for Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces and Debussy’s swirling orchestral masterpiece La Mer.

Pintscher’s cool precision elicited completely the right response in both Boulez performances.

The opening work – with re-organised orchestral layout, three harps as a kind of centrifugal force (certainly visibly), enveloped by compulsive, shimmering percussion, and crowned by the lustrous, if economic, presence of soprano Yeree Suh – bore the unpredictable excitability of a celestial meteor shower.

At the other end of the evening, the diminutive scale of Mémoriale, topped by guest principal Charlotte Ashton’s beguiling flute solo, acted as a captivating and calming nightcap to the foregoing oceanic spray of La Mer, a musical picture that Pintscher painted with a powerful concoction of explosive colours and controlled nuance.

He took the same line with the Berg, evoking the out-of-silence/back-to-silence opening movement expertly, though overall it called for more distinctive texturing than Pintscher was willing to allow. Altogether a thoroughly satisfying concert, though, deserving of a bigger audience than it got.

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