Review: Extraordinary weekend of intriguing and majestic music 20.02.2015

Michael Tumelty Herald Scotland

RSNO Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

I COULDN’T say this until after the RSNO’s tremendous concert with Peter Oundjian and Nicola Benedetti on Saturday night, though I suspected it might be special. But what an extraordinary weekend it has been, witnessing Scotland’s three national orchestras, all on top form, all rolling out musical wonders on consecutive nights, and all reviewed today. It was like watching a fleet of flagships in full sail; there was something majestic about it all.

The RSNO’s standing-room only concert on Saturday was mind-blowing. Shostakovich’s complex First Violin Concerto is relatively new to Nicola Benedetti’s repertoire, but my God has she got it by the throat. It’s one of the most unremittingly serious things she’s done. She was right under the skin, right in the searing soul of the music, conquering structural and technical issues in a performance as mature as it was blisteringly intense. But what will stay with this listener was her unwavering concentration and the sheer intensity of her playing. I’ve never known her so focused: there was something magnetic about it as she drew the composer’s codes and secrets from the score, giving them vivid life and form. Dare I suggest this was a supreme Benedetti performance, and a red-letter day (night) in her career?

Peter Oundjian’s electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, with the RSNO in white-hot form, was provocative in that it challenged some assumptions about this deeply autobiographical work, particularly in the finale, where Oundjian came close to lifting the lid on what the astonishing music might actually be about. I’ll tell you about this soon: it’s an intriguing thesis. But, for now, what an unforgettable weekend with Scotland’s orchestras.