Matthias Pintscher’s Fünf Orchesterstücke

On 1st august, the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano, premiered of Fünf Orchesterstücke (Five Orchestral Pieces) by Matthias Pintscher (b. 1971) at the Salzburger Festspiele. Pintscher is generally viewed as one of the finest talents among the younger generation in Germany. In my opinion, he has already evinced more than mere talent. The new work offers some aspects which reveal a quite personal nature. He has a certain track record: he is an extremely sensitive orchestrator, who is not contented until he has achieved a definite gestalt of every transition and instumental combination. Nothing seems to happen by accident. The Fünf Orchesterstücke comprise four slow, apparently hesitant movements. Only the second movement is in a fast, exaggerated tempo, in its precipitancy, possibly on an unconscious level relying on his calf-love, the Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Concerning the other movements, Pintscher’s attitude is hardly that of a painter using the full palette of colours. He acts more like a draughtsman, who carefully adds the chosen colours to the sparse texture. He does this in a very effective way, and often the result sounds surprisingly spontaneous. The first movement, apertamente, respirando, ends quite unexpectedly. But the end would probably not appear less abrupt, if the piece were twice as long. It is as if the entire movement is geared towards opening new vistas, but ones that never appear.

If one prefers such transparent structures, almost every detail gains a foreground position. Pintscher inhibits the expressive energies, which are caused by well calculated contrasts of structural timing and sublime allusions to tonal forces. He very rarely lets the inherent energies burst out. He shies away from pathos. Strangely enough, the work contains a number of 'pathetic' references. Descending figures in the horns and low strings respectively have a telling effect, just to cite one example. The most obvious pointer to a functional tonality is introduced in the last movement by the cor anglais – the only real melody. Between the third and the fifth movements places a short sequenza, sordo, lugubre; this movement acts as a neutral buffer zone. The final sospeso, molto irreale, come da lontano leads to an emotional climax, but one that leaves the listener hankering for more. This finale is oddly reminiscent of a prelude. As we might have guessed, Pintscher intended it as a first movement.

Christoph Schlüren

(Review for the music quarterly TEMPO,
London 1997)