sat 18/11/2017

Prom 48: Weilerstein, BBC Scottish SO, Pintscher | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 48: Weilerstein, BBC Scottish SO, Pintscher

Prom 48: Weilerstein, BBC Scottish SO, Pintscher

Orchestral walks on the wild side - shame about the Shakespeare

What revels are in hand? Call Matthias Pintscher, composer, conductor, Renaissance musicianAll images - Chris Christodoulou/BBC

If you go down to the woods today, to be sure of a big surprise is a contradiction in terms, but this pair of sylvan adventures by Matthias Pintscher and Mendelssohn was another example of the discreetly sensitive programme-building which has distinguished the present season of BBC Proms.

Cello concertos have been a theme. Two in the last week alone (from Charlotte Bray and Colin Matthews) alongside classics by Elgar (at the First Night) and Haydn, played in yesterday’s matinee Prom by Narek Hakhnazaryan and the Ulster Orchestra. Pintscher's Reflections on Narcissus falls between them: written a decade ago, it has notched up performances across the US and Europe and has two commercial recordings to its name. Advocacy from the likes of Alisa Weilerstein (pictured below) has set the concerto beyond the merely intriguing on the path towards a hold on the repertoire.

Naturalistic, even cinematic and nakedly psychological approaches are seductively easy to make. From silence emerges the slow drip and lazy babble of water of a poolside scene by a forest glade. Lambent flickers of percussion throw light upon the object of (self-)adoration, though the soloist is not set in Romantic relief from her surroundings but moves in and out of focus over a well-earned 35-minute span. It is soon apparent that Narcissus is not alone in his solipsistic contemplations. Echo flits in and out, around a Freudian inventory of terror, rejection and hysteria. But Pintscher is too refined and too experienced a composer to allow a portrait of narcissism to be devoured by the creature of complacent ennui on which it feeds.

A dramatically obvious but fitting five-movement structure opens out to a long and lovely look-at-me cantilena, then death and transfiguration. Even battling the orchestra, often teetering on the snowline of her instrument, Weilerstein made her cello bloom and swell gorgeously against an exotic orchestral voluptuary, ”steaming, monstrous, rank – a kind of primeval wilderness” as Gustave Aschenbach envisioned amid the Bavarian gravestones before setting off to meet his death in Venice.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra had evidently mastered a tricky score, which the composer directed with assurance. Pintscher and the BBCSSO have worked together for several years: there have been impressive broadcasts of dynamically contoured Schubert and Schumann alongside new works. For whatever reason, the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not meet those standards.

Every miraculously deft note Mendelssohn wrote for the play was presented in a version created in 2011 by Gerard McBurney. All the main characters were touched in by an adaptable, hard-working cast; Katharine Broderick projected each bright vowel and tongue-twisting consonant of “You spotted snakes”, joined by Clara Mouriz and backed with impeccable diction by the Finchley Children’s Music Group (pictured above).

And “the pert and nimble spirit of mirth”, where was she? Simply not enough time had been found or care taken to take the hour-long sequence beyond a base camp of (mostly) the right notes and words. Learning the lines would have helped. There was some ACTING, a lot of delivery, and a deal too much respect paid to the music. Over and around it tiptoed the six actors in an archly regular sing-song metre, as if fearful of disrupting its cadences, when they might profitably have been looking after Shakespeare and leaving Mendelssohn to fend for himself.

Perhaps in search of a darkness in the score to complement his own work, Pintscher set some surprisingly comfortable speeds, which worked against the necessary flick of precision to Mendelssohn’s chording and left the overture pedestrian, the Scherzo neat but routine, the Wedding March lumpen. The turbulent interlude of the Nocturne was urged on with the large and somewhat helpless gestures of a conductor who knows he needs another three hours of work to approach the ideal.

@peterquantrill

Weilerstein made her cello bloom and swell gorgeously against an exotic orchestral voluptuary

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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