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BBC SSO / Matthias Pintscher

02.07.11
Matthias Pintscher
The Guardian

By Kate Molleson

Taking on Matthias Pintscher as Artist-in-Association last year confirmed the BBCSSO's place among serious new music ensembles. The 40-year-old German composer-conductor has attracted attention since his early 20s for writing dense and detailed sound worlds, but he's at heart a romantic, fond of conducting Berlioz and Debussy and able to treat thornier stuff with the same broad expression.

He has strong links with the European and American new music scenes, links that – judging by this concert, the first in his new role with the SSO – will serve the orchestra well. We heard three UK premieres, the most impressive of which was by Pintscher himself. Songs from Solomon's Gardens sets the ancient Hebrew Shir ha-Shirim, which Pintscher describes as "the most beautiful, intimate and intricate love poetry ever written", each word "like a prism which scatters the expressive content in various directions". The same could be said about the music. Clusters of close-knit sound brim with volatile energy that flits through the orchestra, always bright and shifting. Baritone Evan Hughes sang with warmth and gravitas, though occasionally his richness was lost in the mix.

The other guest was American violinist-composer David Fulmer, 30 this year and, like Pintscher, deadly precocious. His Violin Concerto is clever but unsettled, overwhelmed by what an orchestra can do – not ready to accept that one piece can't capture it all.

After the interval came Michael Jarrell's Instantanés, dating from 1986 and sounding it, full of brute, tarnished energy. The evening opened with Bach – arranged by Webern and conducted by Pintscher – and closed with Zimmermann's final orchestral work, written shortly before his suicide and strung around a dull drone that peters out to heartbreaking nothing, leaving only the meek whimper of a bowed saw.