RSNO/Reif/Benedetti, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
Working with young conductor Christian Reif, who was making his debut appearance with the RSNO, Benedetti enthralled us with moments of whispered magic (the teasing suggestiveness of the opening bars), mesmerising stillness (the hanging anticipation at the close of the slow movement, its axis connection to the ensuing finale, unfortunately killed by premature applause), and the heated virtuosity that permeates every mood expressed in this juicy, febrile score.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. While Reif pitched his tempi with intuitive positivity, there was a murkiness in the orchestral sound, from which Sibelius’ distinctive colourings struggled to emerge in their true light, as if muffled within a darkened room.
Nor did it inspire a sense of sustained concentration from Benedetti, whose big picture perspective periodically twitched.
Reif opened his programme with a tub-thumping no-nonsense performance of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, a kind of Russianised Elgar, clichéd to the hilt and treated as such by an obliging RSNO.
But it was in the closing work, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, brilliantly animated in Ravel’s polychromatic orchestration, that this partnership shone brightest. Character and virtuosity erupted emphatically within Reif’s disciplined framework. Ken Walton