Prom 57 – En Sourdine

Composer Portrait – Matthias Pintscher

Pintscher
Figura V/Assonanza
Lieder und Schneebilder

Matthias Pintscher in conversation with Andrew McGregor

Musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music

Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Prom 57

Pintscher
’en sourdine’ [UK premiere]
Bruckner
Symphony No.5 in B flat

Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 2 September, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The portrait of Matthias Pintscher introduced a self-assured if not overly-revealing composer, writes Colin Anderson, one whose favourite instrument is apparently the orchestra. Of the music played, Figura V/Assonanza (for solo cello) hypnotically inveigles the listener’s sense of sound and form. In this performance, a very assured one by Victoria Simonsen, one perceives an underlying stratum of sound creating a sort of timbral double stopping. It held the attention rather more than the songs, which seemed to be played in a different order from that published (or did we just get a selection?). While belonging to post-Schoenberg Expressionism, and composed with certainty, there seemed a lack of individuality if not fluency. One would have guessed that Pintscher is German (though the songs’ texts are the English of e e cummings) and might have thought Darmstadt (albeit several times removed). Soprano Claire Groom and pianist Jeremy Young (required to also play inside the piano, a rather limited gesture by now) performed with conviction. A refinement of technique seems to mark Pintscher out.

Richard Whitehouse covered the evening’s main Prom, which included Pintscher’s ’en sourdine’…

A pairing of opposites in this Prom, which opened with a substantial new work by German composer Matthias Pintscher. Written for and premiered by Frank Peter Zimmermann, ’en sourdine’ (with mute) is not a concerto in any obvious sense. The subtitle, “music for violin and orchestra”, is an apt one – the soloist threads his way through an instrumental fabric equally spare and inward-looking. Brief tutti climaxes towards the centre and near the end stand out, expressively as well as formally, in a context of subtle timbral differentiation and acute textural finesse. Yet the overall impression is of continuity actively promoted by such fugitive means. Certainly the sound circulated to telling effect in the resonant expanse of the Albert Hall, abetted by the dedicated response of Zimmermann and some of the most responsive playing heard this season from the BBC Symphony. Pintscher is a figure of some individuality, and this performance can only have enhanced his reputation.

From here to Bruckner might seem a long way conceptually, but silence – and equally resonance – plays its part in the Fifth Symphony like no other except the Ninth. Once seen as the most elusive of the canon, No. 5 is now recognised as Bruckner’s most perfectly proportioned symphony, culminating in a finale which crystallises the whole structure as few symphonies dare to approach.

Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s performance was itself at its most impressive here. Earlier, what might be described as thoughtful non-interventionism slightly sold the opening movement short. True, the ’Adagio’ introduction was spaciously rendered, but the ’Allegro’ which emerges from its ambiguous tonal premise, and plays out against its unfolding harmonic context, never quite ’found the groove’ in terms of pacing. The development was solidly built, but the launch of the reprise was less than breathtaking. The coda created the right emotional frisson, however, and in the succeeding slow movement Saraste then found a viable balance between the plaintive restraint of the initial oboe melody and the warmth of the strings’ response. Self-contained the movement may be compared to those of Bruckner’s proceeding symphonies, but its emotional depth is never in doubt.

The third movement found Saraste seemingly unsure over what extent to vary tempo and rhythmic emphasis in this formally most organic of Bruckner’s scherzos, but its energy and elegance were effectively delineated. The trio, taken more impulsively than the norm, made for a striking contrast.

Come the Finale, and Saraste could have pointed up more the insouciance of the clarinet interjections in the review of past material, but the fugal main theme was trenchantly delivered, and the chorale integrated carefully but never self-consciously. The fugal ramifications of the development were keenly articulated, and if Saraste seemed a mite cautious in approaching the apotheosis, this did not undermine its exhilaration in the way that Bernard Haitink’s stolidity did so fatally in his recent Vienna Philharmonic account in London. Here, the point and purpose of the process was soundly rendered, ensuring the sense of overwhelming finality that few symphonic finales approach in sheer conviction.

Saraste looked thoughtfully pleased at the close – and, having drawn some authentically Brucknerian playing from an orchestra whose association with Günter Wand was a long and fruitful one, his pleasure at steering the symphony through so securely to its destination was the more justified.

  • Radio 3 re-broadcast on Thursday 4 September at 2.00 p.m.
  • BBC Proms

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