Festival Music

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

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. Just as Boulez's obsession with the poetry of Stephane Mallarme featured in that 1994 concert, so it was the starting point of Don ("Gift"), part one of Pli selon pli, with petite Korean soprano Yeree Suh a mesmerising presence before an orchestra including three harps and seven percussionists arrayed with the strings to the left of the podium and the winds and horns to the right.

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.