Different programmes on Thursday and Friday by the RSNO – one in Glasgow, the other in Edinburgh – were effectively a dress rehearsal for the orchestra before it jetted off on Saturday for a ten-day Florida tour – its first US trip in 35 years – that opens tonight in Fort Lauderdale.
Glasgow heard the beefier one – Borodin’s Prince Igor Overture, Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony – the Sunday roast version to Edinburgh’s less calorific Debussy, Bruch and Beethoven. On the podium was RSNO music director Peter Oundjian; and the icing on the cake was violinist Nicola Benedetti, who looks certain to be as big a draw to Florida audiences as she is here.
Written for the same soloist and collaborator of Brahms and Bruch, the legendary Joseph Joachim, these two violin concertos are very different in scale. Brahms, with its massive opening movement, makes an epic statement, curtailing virtuoso grandstanding while upping the symphonic argument; Bruch’s simply gets to the point and fills your ears with great tunes.
Benedetti’s Bruch was compelling. She addressed it with ease and vigour, flavouring its rustic rhythmic figurations and melting slow movement melody with the musical equivalent of the warming smile that frequently crossed her face.
The RSNO & Nicola Benedetti ****
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and Usher Hall, Edinburgh
In Glasgow, her Brahms was equally vital, expansively phrased and teasingly interactive with Oundjian’s alert players. There were odd moments where Benedetti’s tone lost its sheen, mainly those physically testing gymnastics at the top end of the instrument, but on hearing similar passages sing so ravishingly the following night, could this be down to the infinitely superior Usher Hall acoustics?
As for the orchestral performances, there was something very grounded about the Borodin and Tchaikovsky in Glasgow. And while the Edinburgh playing was far more lustrous and dynamic (exquisite colourings in Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and a feisty Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) tautness in the ensemble occasionally expressed itself as tangible fear, horrifyingly so in the frantic violin entry following the oboe cadenza in the Beethoven.
It’s a feature of Oundjian’s style that he often over-
conducts, a kind of micro-management that is well-meaning, but tends to override the musicians’ instinctive and collective musicality, leading to those instances of flatline expression in Thursday’s Borodin and Tchaikovsky, or anxious tension in Friday’s Beethoven.
On tour the adrenalin will kick in, the Florida sun will shine, and the band will inevitably raise its game. Bon voyage!