As the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra demonstrated with Gerard Grisey’s Dérives under Ilan Volkov’s baton in Prom 46, they are superbly competent exponents of cutting-edge avant-garde music, but not even they could make much out of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus in Prom 48.
Prom 48: BBC SSO | Rating: **** | Royal Albert Hall, London
This 45-year-old German composer-conductor has been flavour of the month for several years now, and his appointments across Europe and America as conductor, composer, and teacher grow ever more starry; he’s also “artist-in-association” with the BBC SSO, hence this piece at the Proms - and his presence on the podium.
Having dutifully – or perhaps mistakenly – read the advance encomium in the programme, I was looking forward to what Pintscher’s apologist described as its “theatricality and mystery”, and to what the composer himself described as “a significant symphonic cello concerto”; with Alisa Weilerstein as soloist, all sounded promising.
Initially one was struck by the clarity of the textures and the precision with which each note was placed; there was more than a hint of Japanese theatre music in the atmosphere created with wood-block percussion, and the underlying pulse was slow and strong. Weilerstein was called upon to play higher than I have ever heard a cello played before, and one of her cadenzas was truly crazy. But apart from the final five minutes, when Pintscher settled into lyrical mode, the piece was woefully undramatic.
The second half of this Prom was a spirited rendering of the full (and seldom performed) score of Mendelssohn’s music for a melodrama on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Quarter-staged” would have been more accurate than “semi-staged”, but musically the whole thing was enchanting.