Kate Molleson 

BBCSSO/Pintscher – review

The highlight of this hefty but patchy evening was a ferocious performance of Bartók's Second Violin Concerto, writes Kate Molleson
  
  

This was the first event in the BBC Scottish Symphony's annual "open doors" weekend: three days of free concerts curated by the orchestra's artist-in-association – and the man just announced as next artistic director of the Ensemble IntercontemporainMatthias Pintscher. He had devised a hefty opening night. Copland's Appalachian Spring didn't get underway until gone 10.30pm, more than three hours into a sprawling "new world" programme of Bartók, Dvořák, Ives, Cage, plus some Gabrieli and Schumann for good measure.

The highlight was a ferocious performance of Bartók's Second Violin Concerto from violinist Jennifer Koh. Her sound is gutsy, highly charged and not always pretty; with head down and bowing elbow well up, she attacked even lyrical passages with an urgency that at times outstripped her own fingers, let alone the orchestra's. There were tuning slips and ensemble mismatches, but Koh's musical conviction was exhilarating.

Dvořák's New World Symphony took more time to find its drive. Opening entries were scrappy and Pintscher's tempos didn't settle. He urged the second movement impatiently, and the scherzo's rhythmic tug-of-war sounded genuinely unstable. But these heavy-set themes have an irrepressible force of their own, and the orchestra ran on an internal energy; by the beginning of the finale, they had honed in on a robust kind of swing.

The rest of the night was made up of odd titbits – what Pintscher called "musical tapas". There were cool performances of Ives's Three Places in New England and The Unanswered Question. Pianist Scott Mitchell played Cage's Seven Haiku carefully and Schumann's Kinderszenen almost shyly. Gabrieli's Sonata Pian' e Forte was given a robust surround-sound treatment. The Copland came, at last, in a stripped-down chamber ensemble version that sounded fresh at the end of a long and patchy night.