PERHAPS the first observation that should be made of Peter Oundjian's concert with the RSNO on Saturday is this: isn't the band playing uncommonly well for him? Did you hear any imbalance of ensemble in his majestically-paced account of Brahms's First Symphony? Did you notice the bronzed, burnished and beautiful ensemble playing in that work where, even in the heavyweight Allegro of the first movement, and in the thrilling climactic pages of the finale, the brass, while sounding full, never drowned out the strings?
And did you notice the hyper-alert attention to detail in the ravishingly-intertwining duet between leader Jim Clark and the first horn in the slow movement, which seemed to enshrine the sentiment I always feel underpins this music: Brahms's love for Clara Schumann (whether consummated or not)? The performance was a glory, marked by its clear, long-range trajectory, the confident foundation of its structure, the clarity of the part-writing that lies within, the superb playing of it by the RSNO, and Oundjian's control of the pace, momentum, and long-range emotional architecture of the symphony, which is fundamentally an exemplar of the principle of tension and release?
Star of the night, however, in an electric, powerhouse performance of Rachmaninov's Paganini Variations with Oundjian a super-responsive accompanist, was Russian-born Natasha Peremski, who seemed to have steel implants in her fingers and a style not unlike Rachmaninov's own, sweeping uncompromisingly through the music with elan, passion, and an exceptional sensitivity.