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Festival Music review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

08.13.16
Matthias Pintscher
Herald Scotland

The programme for this "Festival Celebration" of the music of Pierre Boulez, and dedicated to his memory following his death earlier this year, included a note about his association with the EIF dating from its second year in 1948 to the start of the new millennium. But it could not find room for the occasion at the end of the 1994 Festival when his Paris sonic laboratory IRCAM was installed in the Playhouse for a programme entirely of his own music, performed by the Ensemble InterContemporain.

Yet that occasion was in some ways the nearest precursor to this memorial event, which attempted the bold task of exploring the mind of the master. That conductor Matthias Pintscher and the SSO managed to do just that was the result of a very clever programme extraordinarily well performed. 

From an explosive demonstration of the Boulez soundworld, we were then led back to an exploration of its sources, as much in the range of orchestral colour as in compositional technique with the Three Pieces Opus 6 of Alban Berg (also a clear influence on Pintscher's own music), and then a glorious reading of Debussy's La Mer, before returning to Boulez, with Memoriale (...explosante-fixe...originel), an exquisite coda featuring guest principal flute Charlotte Ashton. 

Versatility is a key attribute of Scotland's orchestras, but the SSO is your band for this repertoire, and they were on fire on Friday evening.  

Read the rest of the review here