A Night of Pianistic Poetry and the Magic of French Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Berlioz:  Javier Perianes (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Matthias Pintscher (conductor), City Halls, Glasgow, 4.12.2014. (CG)

Fauré: Incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande
Saint-Saëns: Fifth Piano Concerto Op. 103
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique,

While the centre piece of this all-French programme was undoubtedly Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique,  Fauré’s incidental music to Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande provided an evocative opening to the evening.  The BBC SSO brought warmth and soul to the suite and the evening’s conductor, the BBC SSO’s Artist-in-Association Matthias Pintscher elegantly balanced restraint with climactic moments. Pathos was balanced with magic, the clarity of the orchestration delicately brought to life while exquisite woodwind playing endowed the suite with an enchanting aura.

 The next work on this programme was Camille Saint-Saëns’ Fifth Piano Concerto Op. 103, known as the ‘Egyptian’, since its last two movements were composed during the composer’s stay in Egypt. It featured the Spanish pianist Javier Perianes. This is a concerto built on variety and continuous change, and is not often programmed. Indeed, the last time the BBC SSO performed it was in 1983. Saint-Saëns’ work is full of variety, mixing Lisztian moments of virtuosic piano writing with more rhythmic, physical and pulsating moments. The work can come across as somewhat unstructured and improvisatory, with some occasionally uninspiring musical material. It is to the performers’ credit that they injected life, energy and drive into this work. Perianes gave a performance full of poetic brilliance and characterised by virtuosity of the highest order. Poignant moments alternated with dramatic statements of pianistic force supported throughout by Perianes’ nonchalantly dazzling displays of brilliant playing.

 Berlioz’s theatrical Symphonie Fantastique suits an orchestra like the BBC SSO admirably and they certainly did not disappoint in this performance. Matthias Pintscher inspired a highly charged rendition. He brought a committed interpretation to this well-known work and his natural instincts as a composer came through in different ways. His capacity for balancing dramatic narratives, theatrical episodes and fantastic daydreams kept us interested. The atmosphere of the Witches’ Sabbath was both electric and devilishly mischievous while the drama of the scaffold march, with some truly memorable playing on the bassoons, made this performance powerful and full of personality.


Christina Guillaumier