Review: RSNO/Marsalis VC/ Sondergard

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


THESE may have been the premiere Scottish performances of the concerto that Wynton Marsalis has written for violinist Nicola Benedetti, but she had already given the home audience a taste of it by way of a little blues encore, and the piece has undergone substantial revision since she played it with the LSO at the end of 2015, a process in which she and conductor Cristian Macelaru, with whom she has recorded it for release on Decca later this year, have played a significant part.

The quality programme Thomas Sondergard conducted here tells us that the confidence she now has in the work is widely shared. There is little contemporary orchestral music as dramatic as the Dances from Powder Her Face, Thomas Ades’ suite from his first opera, witits central Waltz as funky as it is scary, and some brilliant use of percussion and brass. Just as clever in its own way, if altogether more jolly than the whole opera, is Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess, which requires a vast orchestral palette for its expert sequencing of Gershwin’s sensational melodies.

If the Concerto in D by Wynton Marsalis cannot boast the same class of tune, it lacks nothing in theatre, culminating in the soloist exiting, stage right, playing a figure that could have been pinched from the traditional music of the birthplaces of either Benedetti or the composer. In some ways this was a perfect coda to Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival, with the violinist demonstrating an affinity with bluegrass on an extended cadenza, and the whole piece increasingly referencing roots music, chiefly American, as surely as it reveals the influence of Bartok, Stravinsky, and Charles Mingus.

It is hugely demanding of the soloist, who must demonstrate a vast range of techniques, and requires the full involvement of the orchestral players with instrument-tapping, stomping and clapping. In particular Adrian Wilson contributed fine bluesy oboe, while trumpeter Chris Hart played his socks off all night.

There was no encore, but instead Benedetti chose to highlight the presence in the hall of music students from Midlothian whom she had visited earlier in the day. The opposition voiced by this audience to the local authority’s threat to cut free instrumental tuition hopefully reached some influential ears.