How do you give a vintage performance at the tender age of 27?
Quite simply, if your name is Nicola Benedetti. Forget about the hype and concentrate on the performance, and it’s more than likely it will astound you. Thursday night’s performance of Shostakovich’s first violin concerto surpassed anything I’ve heard her perform before and that takes some doing! It was a bit of a double whammy, to be honest. An unusually-constructed concerto where the accent was firmly on the melodic side with virtuosic fireworks taking second place and Nicola’s astounding interpretation and delivery.
The tone in both lower and upper registers in the beautiful opening movement was superb with RSNO conductor Peter Oundjian building up the intensity in marvellous fashion. Then came the contrast of contrasts, a lightning-fast Scherzo that exhibited every morsel of an amazing technique, flair and musicality. The two sides of Nicola Benedetti in a nutshell! It is a four-movement work, but it could easily be five as the cadenza between the third and fourth is tour de force all of its own, demanding the highest proficiency from the performer. These five minutes of excellence were worth the entrance money alone.
Any huge, hard-hitting Romantic symphony would have made a perfect follow-on, but Tchaikovsky’s Fourth was the ideal choice. Unfairly in the shadow of the fifth and sixth symphonies, it was a pleasure to see this magnificent work given an equally magnificent performance. From the opening fanfare, quite a unique effect in symphonic circles, to the escalating build up as the Finale drew to a close this was the RSNO at their very best.
Oundjian’s choice of tempi was a telling factor in this hugely successful performance, with the pizzicato three-faceted Scherzo in particular adding “molto” to the Allegro. The final Allegro con fuoco lived up to its billing, a firey, exciting and exhilarating flurry of descending semi-quavers and resonant brass that, despite an echo of the fateful opening fanfare, was joyful and uplifting.
The new RSNO season couldn’t have got off to a better start. The question is, how do they follow that?