German masters mix virtuosity and wit, with a touch of melancholy

Matthias Pintscher
The Australian

By Eamonn Kelly

  • Master Series
    Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Melbourne Town Hall, March 15

THIS year's Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Master Series opened with the return of two German-born artists, conductor-composer Matthias Pintscher and violinist Kolja Blacher.

Blacher has been a regular and consistently impressive MSO soloist during the past decade, demonstrating lucid yet subtle interpretations and an intensely expressive technique.

On this visit, he is presenting three diverse concert programs, including Stravinsky's infrequently heard Violin Concerto. Complementing this spiky dose of virtuosity, wit and occasional melancholy, Pintscher directed an alert MSO through the episodic extremes of Paul Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Hector Berlioz's intimately nuanced Symphonie fantastique.

Pintscher conducts with a suave demeanour and an energetic and precise technique. He is equally alert to the smooth delivery of grand structural lines and opportunities for sudden bolts of articulation, dynamic shift and mood change.

The Dukas was delivered as a seamless sonic thread, weaving an enthralling path between shimmering calm and outright chaos.

Berlioz's programmatic symphony was given a dynamic performance, with bold articulation, expansive phrasing and moments of boisterous abandon.

Described in the marketing material as a "sorbet" between these musical favourites, Stravinsky's Violin Concerto is anything but a palate-cleanser or sweet delight. Technical hazards, including fiendish double-stops and flitting runs, drastically impede the soloist's attempts to create cohesive and attractive lines.

Few soloists have managed the even greater challenge of elevating the jagged entries of the outer movements above mere pyrotechnics or acerbic outburst.

Blacher handled the challenges superbly, maintaining steady bow contact, pristine sound quality, and fluent phrasing throughout. With astute support from Pintscher, Blacher calmly emphasised the jaunty rhythms and brash jocularity of the outer movements, smoothly handled the second movement's fluctuations between skittish crunch and slinky caress, and achieved poignant lyricism during the third movement's melodic digressions.

The Stravinsky gave only a glimpse of Blacher's artistry; no doubt the remaining two concert programs will allow an even greater view of his capabilities.