Dallas — As the Dallas Symphony seeks a replacement for music director Jaap van Zweden, guest conductors will inevitably be scrutinized to see whether they might be viable replacements for the outgoing maestro. German conductor and composer Matthias Pintscher, who is led the DSO in this weekend’s series of concerts, is certainly a candidate for such speculation. At 45, he is youngish and boasts an impressive but not, perhaps, unattainably impressive CV.
However, this weekend’s program was not, perhaps, the most revelatory of his abilities. It included a set of pieces by three French impressionists all born within 10 years of one another, too narrow a band to see the scope of Pintscher’s abilities. It also included Pintscher’s own violin concerto Mar’eh, with soloist Karen Gomyo.
Mar’eh requires virtuosic technique, but is not a showpiece for the violinist—indeed, whether purposely or accidentally, in some of the piece’s most technically demanding solo passages, Gomyo was overbalanced by the orchestra. More’s the pity, because Gomyo is a violinist of impressive facility and musicality, and, evidently, fearlessness. It is a workout for the percussion section, too, with a wide array of instruments and techniques in play. Perhaps the lack of soloistic showboating in this concerto and in Gomyo’s performance was the reason for a surprisingly tepid reception, with only a few audience members contributing a standing ovation. Usually, it seems that these days audiences will stand for even the most ordinary of performances, so it was a bit disappointing that Gomyo’s brilliant pyrotechnics went under-recognized.
Maybe, though, it’s just that Dallas audiences aren’t quite ready for so much contemporary fare. One criticism often levied at van Zweden is that his programming is conservative. His replacement, whomever he or she may be, is apt to be more progressive, but the reaction of Thursday’s audience makes one wonder whether Dallas audiences would welcome more contemporary fare on their programs.
The remainder of the program, the Impressionist works, went over rather better. The evening began with Debussy’s Prélude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, with Pittsburgh Symphony Principal Flute Lorna McGhee providing the opening solo. Her sound was pretty, certainly appropriate for Debussy, but seems to lack fullness. Co-concertmaster Nathan Olson managed an ethereal timbre, but one with a floor, for his exquisite solo turns.
After intermission, the orchestra performed Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, a delicious piece performed too seldom, Debussy’s “Ibéria,” and the well-known L’appreti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by Paul Dukas. Pintscher’s conducting is sure, with a clear beat and expansive but not excessive gestures. As is often the case with guest conductors, ensemble was not quite as tight as it generally is under van Zweden. The only moment that caused me real ambivalence, though, was when in the Dukas, Pintscher briefly turned to the audience and grinned, as if to say, “Here’s the tune we all know, folks!” It was a bit precious, but the audience responded with an appreciative laugh.
It remains to be seen whether Pintscher will be a legitimate candidate for the music director role. Certainly, he would be a major shift from what Dallasites have become accustomed to—but then, that is inevitable no matter who is selected.