United Kingdom Debussy, Bruch, Beethoven: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.3.2017. (SRT)
Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Bruch – Violin Concerto No. 1
Beethoven – Symphony No. 5, Op.67
During the pre-performance talk for this concert, the RSNO’s Associate Leader, Bill Chandler, said that these three works were about as iconic as you can get, and he’s right! One of the reasons you see them all programmed together is that the RSNO is taking them on tour. In fact, as I type this, they’re in the air heading for an eight-concert tour of Florida, the first time they’ve been to the USA in 35 years. Florida is an interesting choice of destination. Peter Oundjian explains the choice because not only does Florida have many well-off retirees with an interest in classical music, but many people from other American cities spend the winter in Florida (Snowbirds, they’re known as), and so a tour of Florida makes sense as a way of getting the RSNO’s profile out there a bit more. That also speaks of some strategic thinking that hasn’t necessarily been present in the past, which is heartening to see. You can see more about the tour here, if you’re interested.
When you go on tour, you want programmes that will pack in the punters, so why not put this set of pieces together? You also want a soloist that will draw them in, and you certainly get that in Nicola Benedetti, surely Scotland’s most famous ambassador for classical music. She brought the quality of an operatic recitative to the first movement of Bruch’s concerto, before settling into a slow movement of blissful serenity and great peace, the RSNO strings providing a warmly supportive cushion of sound.
Debussy’s famous Prélude sounded similarly supportive, with a wonderfully languid flute solo and an orchestral texture that, at times, seemed to throb. And Beethoven Five was, well, Beethoven Five! It’s good to hear it sounding symphonic and rich, something which is now almost rare in our age of historically-informed norms, and if some of the ensemble in the first movement was just a little ragged around the edges, then that’s certainly something that will find itself fixed by lots of performances on tour.