BBC SSO/Pintscher

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

AT the start of a weekend of Armistice-themed concerts, conductor Matthias Pintscher opened his last programme as artist-in-association at the BBC Scottish with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, composed as a piano suite during the First World War and remembering brothers killed fighting for the French. His post-war orchestral arrangement of four of its movements is much better known, its formal structure far from funereal, including the singular widescreen dance across the centuries of the second movement Forlane, and becoming in its plangent minuet a concerto for principal oboe Alexandra Hilton.

The brilliant orchestration of that piece was a bold precursor to Pintscher’s own second cello concerto, “un despertar”, premiered earlier in the year by Alisa Weilerstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with the Berlin Phil’s young principal cello Bruno Delepelaire making his SSO debut as soloist.

The piece more than lived up to the company, the fluttering, sliding low notes on the cello accompanied by specific and multitudinous percussion colours, particular desk by desk deployment of the strings, contrabass clarinet, toneless blowing through the brass, and Lynda Cochrane reaching in to pluck the strings of the piano.

Entitled and inspired by a poem of Octavio Paz that Pintscher has also set for baritone voice, it has moments requiring virtuosity of the cellist but is essentially an orchestral work, quiet and expansive, but with an underlying restlessness and turbulence expressed in occasional dynamic outbursts.

After the interval an orchestra only a little smaller played the first of Mozart’s trio of late symphonies, No 39 in E flat major. Although from a different period of the composer’s canon, it happened to follow the broadcast the previous evening on BBC Radio 3 of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s performance in the same hall of No 29 under Kristian Bezuidenhout, and this band with 10 violas and six basses seemed a mixed blessing. Although there were natural trumpets and period timpani in the mix, it was still unfashionable High Street Mozart, for which the market these days is debatable.