THE embarrassment of riches in the RSNO’s concert with star Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti felt almost like too much of a good thing – maybe because the concert lacked a certain focus.
RSNO/Peter Oundjian, Nicola Benedetti | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh,
There was Benedetti herself, in a fantastical account of Szymanowski’s heavily perfumed Second Violin Concerto, dripping with conviction. Beforehand, there was the Scottish premiere of the new Little Mass for children’s voices and orchestra by Sir James MacMillan. And conductor Peter Oundjian finished it all off with the colour, spectacle and downright hallucinogenic strangeness of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.
Of all of the concert’s three rather unconnected parts, however, it was MacMillan’s Little Mass that made the most memorable impact. It’s a major, half-hour work, setting three sections of the Latin Mass in music of vibrant sonorities and gestures, and immediately accessible without compromising on its contemporary musical language – from the lush tendrils of melody in the opening Kyrie, with its nods to Debussy, Messiaen and Scriabin, through to the ecstatic waves of sound slowly breaking over the contemplative final Agnus Dei.
The RSNO Junior Chorus were on magnificent form, with a clarity and richness of sound that would put many adult choirs to shame, and Oundjian’s urgent conducting summoned a rich, committed account from the orchestra.
There was more of the ecstatic in Benedetti’s sharply etched yet sumptuous playing in her expansive Szymanowski Concerto, heavy with vibrato and simmering with passion, but Oundjian’s matter-of-fact Symphonie fantastique struggled to match the opulence of the rest of the programme.