Pintscher, DSO open 2017 with a mostly French program
That rare contemporary bird, the composer-conductor, took center stage at Meyerson Symphony Center Thursday night when German-born, New York-based Matthias Pintscher offered up his own Mar’eh for violin and orchestra as the main item on the Dallas Symphony’s first concert of 2017. With the rest of the program devoted to music of French impressionists, the results were sometimes intriguing if ultimately rather lopsided in terms of repertoire and overall effect.
The concert opened promisingly, with Debussy’s evergreen Afternoon of a Faun heating up one of the coldest nights in Dallas in recent memory with the most erotic piece of music ever written. It’s hard to imagine a more impressive way to begin a new year of music-making than with guest flutist Lorna McGhee’s captivating performance of that famous opening solo: a beautifully textured tone and assertive shaping of the opening phrase by McGhee (principal flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony) seduced the audience into Debussy’s dream world. Pintscher and the orchestra followed with her a carefully detailed but momentous journey into that dream.
Since the end of the 19th century, very few musicians have successfully woven together the strands of ego, charisma, personal resilience, and genius necessary to simultaneously function as composer and conductor: in the past quarter and a century, only Mahler, Bernstein, Boulez, and, one rung down, Howard Hanson managed to join that exclusive fraternity.
Pintscher clearly demonstrated the necessary level of healthy ego Thursday night, inviting, in spoken comments preceding the performance, the audience to listen to Mar’eh as if walking through a beautiful garden.
Violinist Karen Gomyo bravely and flawlessly navigated the extraordinary technical demands of the piece, with its lean but always ear-catching effects. Here, a rich sound world flows into a sense of momentum and structure, with hints of classical symphonic architecture returning to the very subtle opening whispered percussion motif. For all that, Mar’eh, with its intense technical demands for both orchestra and soloist and lack of clear anchor points for the casual listener feels stretched out over twenty-four minutes, and seems an unlikely possibility as a repertoire piece anytime soon.
The placement of Debussy and Pintscher’s own work together on the first half of the concert made a strong connection of Pintscher’s 21st-century style with Debussy. The devotion of the entire second half to impressionist hit parade items, however, amounted to overkill.
Pintscher’s aggressive approach to this repertoire didn’t particularly help: while the opening pizzicato of Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso created fine, delicate energy, the subsequent burst of enthusiasm came across like an air raid. The same willingness to blast out the assertive passages, though performed with admirable precision, likewise overwhelmed and spoiled Debussy’s Iberia, particularly in the outer sections.
Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a work forever linked to Mickey Mouse and Disney animation, provided a disappointingly superfluous, pops-concert close to the evening.
The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. mydso.com; 214-849-4376.