Classical review: RSNO/Nicola Benedetti, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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The RSNO’s new music director, Peter Oundjian, ended his first season with the orchestra on a theatrical note.

RSNO/Nicola Benedetti

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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It’s a side of him we’ve become quickly aware of, both in the nature of his programming (think back to the recent film-enhanced presentation of Smetana’s Ma Vlast), and the showbiz ease with which he addresses audiences.

The big feature was Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario, a reworking of William Walton’s score for Lawrence Olivier’s 1944 film by the composer Christopher Palmer, with narration from Shakespeare’s text.

Scots actor Cal MacAninch delivered the narration – a sharp bullet-point summary of the plot with all the famous big lines retained – with an engagement and clarity that gave stirring context to the music. Oundjian’s alert reading of the score, enhanced by the mostly wordless joint forces of the RSNO Chorus and Junior Chorus (though he might have got them to stand together at the start) gave the shifting moods a sense of story book majesty and heroism.

Was the first half Anglo-French cocktail of Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Saint-Saëns a deliberate attempt to pre-empt Henry’s tussle with the French? Otherwise it was an arbitrary concoction, slightly skewed by Nicola Benedetti’s German encore. She was the featured soloist in Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending and Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; poised in the former, but not quite on topmost form in the latter, which was strangely cold and uneven in tone.

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