While the positive premise of opening their doors to a wider audience and offering new and otherwise sidelined orchestral music is much to be applauded, the duo of evening concerts suffered slightly from a lack of focus, over-stretching the orchestra as a jack of all trades, master of none. During Friday night's concert of Ives, Bartok and Dvorak, it felt as though the orchestra and their conductor, artist-in-association Matthias Pintscher, were holding back, with a tentative and ordinary rendition of popular orchestral stalwarts. But with all the SSO's efforts needed to perfect and deconstruct Saturday's concentrated line-up of heavy and difficult contemporary German music, why not dust off old classics during the previous night? Unfortunately, however, this resulted in two unpolished concerts, rather than one outstandingevent.
On Friday, Ives's Three Places in New England and Dvorak's ninth symphony were played well, but left no lasting impression, providing nothing new or exceptional to differentiate them from other renditions. Although obvious that we were in experienced hands with Jennifer Koh's performance of Bartok's second violin concerto, the music was neither as romantically sentimental nor as rustic as it could have been, but rather lay somewhere, unauthoritatively, between the two. The second movement was more engaging though, showcasing Koh's sensitive musicality.
Saturday's concert of German music was poles apart from Friday night's old favourites. Beginning with Aribert Reimann's Neun Stücke, the score exposed each instrument of the orchestra with virtuoso lines that shone through the dense, and at times, overly-heavy mass orchestral texture. Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No.8 was similarly as intense although there were atmospheric moments where the thickness gave way to more intimate gestures. Pintscher, obviously more comfortable conducting newer works, carved rhythmic and dynamic accuracy from Reimann's and Henze's impenetrable sound-worlds.
Pintscher's own work Reflections on Narcissus rose above the previous two pieces with a cleverly constructed conversation between the solo cello, played by Joshua Roman, and the orchestral accompaniment. The blend between the two evoked its narcissistic subject matter expertly where at times the orchestra seemed to represent the cello's sound palate in its entirety. Roman was a clam statue amongst the orchestra's laboured backdrop, and like the music, he blended in seamlessly with the players of of the SSO to such an extent that he could have gone unnoticed.