RSNO’s String Section Impresses in Concert of Russian Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Khachaturian, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7.10.2016. (SRT)

Khachaturian: Waltz from Masquerade

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2

This is a big year for the RSNO.  Not only are they continuing their 125th birthday celebrations, but they have two international tours coming up in the first quarter of 2017.  They start their season with an all-Russian/Soviet concert that acted as a perfect showcase for their string section, sounding beefier and fatter than I remember them before the summer.  Whatever have they been doing whilst on holiday?!

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony is a perfect showcase for a string section like this, and not just the slow movement with its tremendous wash of über-Romantic sound and surging, Tchaikovskian climax with the violins going into orbit over the throbbing orchestral texture.  In fact, that rich, vibrant, vibrato-laden string sound dominated the orchestral texture consistently, from the dark introduction and unsettled Allegro, through to the exuberant finale that, nonetheless, seemed to glitter round the edges.  Yes, the clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded sensational, but it’s not what I’ll remember most.

Peter Oundjian was on fine form, too, sometimes enticing the sound, sometimes commanding it, but always shaping it satisfyingly, and cooking up a great storm in the Masquerade waltz, which worked exceptionally well as a concert opener, sweeping all before it in its energetic momentum.

That sense of sweep was there in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, too, with the orchestral tuttis of the first movement sounding very fine, and the fireworks of the finale dashing off very effectively. The Canzonetta was a chilly contrast, standing apart beautifully from its neighbours, and the wind choir that are so important to its colour sounded dark and, at the same time, a little distant. Having Nicola Benedetti on the billing helped to ensure that the Usher Hall was packed out, but she wasn’t on her finest form tonight.  The sweep of the melody was there, of course, and she rode the wave of the orchestral sound very well, but her playing lacked the nth degree of accuracy in places, scooting over some of the faster passaged in a way that sounded particularly rushed, and playing a cadenza that sounded a little indelicate at times.  Her coordination with the ensemble was a little slack in places, too, especially in the finale, where she also sawed her way through some of the runs a little too rapidly.  I seemed to be the only person who was bothered by that, though, as she was cheered to the rafters at the end and, in a nicely modest touch, when she came out for her final ovation then, instead of playing the expected encore, she simply thanked the orchestra and wished them a happy birthday.  Classy.

Simon Thompson

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