Friday, 12 September 2008

Hérodiade Fragmente - Matthias Pintscher Prom

Matthias Pintscher was born only in 1971 but his music has already made waves. Boulez conducted his Osiris this May in London and Boulez  doesn't conduct things that aren't worth doing. Hérodiade Fragmente was premiered by Abbado in Berlin in 1999 with Christine Schafer : not minor league ! Of all the "new" music in this year's Prom season this was easily the most intriguing - listen to the re-broadcast.

The text is to Mallarmé's epic poem, a fin de siècle drama of sexual repression and undefinable longings. "J'attends un chose inconnue" sings the soprano. Pintscher leaves the line unadorned, the voice alone and unsupported. It's the still, silent heart of the piece. Read the whole poem to get the full context. Hérodiade is a girl surrounded by sensual excess, which fascinates and repels her. Pintscher focuses solely on her dialogue with the mirror, intensifying the surreal mood. The vocal line is sensual, lovely sighing vowels, but emotions are cut off in sudden cries, their import too much for the girl to handle. But the mirror doesn't shirk. Pintscher's orchestral writing is superb. The mirror takes on a powerful life of its own, commenting and reflecting what words can't express. The strings shimmer, dense and opaque, a smooth hard surface that reflects without relenting. It seems still, and calm. But then the music shatters into jagged, angular staccato. Glass is fragile, it can break into lethal shards. Pintscher also writes eerie circular figures, like the sounds of wet fingers rubbing on glass. It's spooky yet childlike, reminding us how young the girl is. Eschenbach gets wonderfully subdued playing from the Orchestre de Paris - long, barely audible humming, even from the brass, which is quite a feat. This captures the suppressed emotion in the poem, feelings so painful they can only be whispered at. It's beautiful, yet sinister. As the girl's "froides pierreries" drop away in "les sanglots supremes et meurtris", the music explodes in wounded sobs, the percussion ringing bells that could either be celebration or calls of alarm.

Mallarmé knew he was entering dangerous new territory with this poem. He needed symbols that were oblique, to "paint , not the thing itself but the effect it produces". So Pintscher's music profoundly reflects the spirit of the poem - like a mirror, quiet but unflinching.

Review of Mahler 1 will follow shortly, watch this space.

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