BBC Proms reviews

Prom 48: BBC SSO/Pintscher @ Royal Albert Hall, London

18 August 2013

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall (Photo: Andy Paradise/Royal Albert Hall)

Matthias Pintscher is no stranger to the Proms as a composer, but this appearance marked his first as a conductor – directing the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, whose Artist-in-Residence he has been since 2009.

Perhaps inevitably, Pintscher brought with him a new composition – Chute d’Étoiles, a double concerto for two trumpets and orchestra which received its world premiere at last year’s Lucerne Festival. The piece was inspired by a sculptural installation of the same name by Anselm Kiefer – a scary looking fabrication of lead and glass shards which was exhibited in Paris in 2007. The impenetrable programme notes attempted to explain the purpose of both works in terms of creation and obliteration, but they failed to give the listener much direction. That left the music to stand on its own. Imaginative features it had, but not really enough to rank Chute d’Étoiles as an especially memorable piece.

Things started arrestingly with a series of shattering of chords, with their intimation of meteorites crashing to earth. But most of what followed lacked focus and direction. Pintscher did not establish a particularly strong relationship between the trumpet solos (played by Tine Thing Helseth and Marco Blaauw) by either pitching them against each other or by developing a clearly discernible dialogue between them. In fact, not a lot happened over 20 minutes, apart from the predictable rasps, blows and shrieks which both soloists elicited from their respective instruments.

There was much more colour in Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole, which opened the concert. Its shimmering exoticism and instrumental glitter were painted in great detail by Pintscher and the forces of the BBC SSO. His concentration on orchestral detail came at the expense of the work’s pulsating rhythms and its unashamed evocation of postcard Spain. The opening prelude, for example, was deeply reflective, but far too slow. Even the final, exultant, Feria sounded moody and ill-at-ease.

Many of these qualities – for better or worse – found their way into Pintscher’s reading of the full-length 1910 version of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. On the plus side, there was some superb solo work (including stunning brass playing) and plenty of instrumental detail. But the interconnecting musical material between each dance and scene (a feature which Stravinsky himself ditched in his later ballet scores) tended to drag. Pintscher’s rather clinical, if technically brilliant, interpretation slowed down the momentum and underplayed the drama and tensions that lie at the heart of this fairy tale score.

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