Audimax der Universitat, Regensburg, Germany

Keith Bruce

four stars

SCOTLAND’s national orchestra and its guest soloist Nicola Benedetti have performed in grander venues than this Brutalist university concert hall in Regensburg on the Danube on their current European tour, but the ecstatic reception the musicians received was, by all accounts, typical.

Regardless of its campus setting, there appeared to be few students among the ticket buyers, but the audience of well-heeled Bavarians were far from reserved in the ovation they gave to both Benedetti’s Bruch concerto before the interval and a beautifully detailed account of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony in the concert’s second half.

The programme was very much a showcase for the strings, and began with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, for which conductor Thomas Sondergard had placed the nine-piece separate string group higher at the back of the orchestra where the brass players usually it. The effect was to give their distinct role a distanced ethereal quality that was quite special, and the conversation between that unit, the rest of the strings and the solos of the front desk players was beautifully nuanced.

It is arguable that the Violin Concerto No.1 by Max Bruch is a work that we hear rather too often, but in the hands of Benedetti, Sondergard and the RSNO, its popularity is entirely understandable. Far more than a party piece for a virtuoso fiddler, it is a perfectly structured work in which the memorable tunes are as often in the hands of the string ensemble, and when its dynamics are perfectly in place, as they were here, its trajectory is completely involving.

In the first of the evening’s nod towards the players’ homeland, Ayrshire’s international classical superstar anticipated Burns’ Night with an encore arrangement of the original (better) melody for Auld Lang Syne.

After the precision dynamics and tempo of the Dvorak, the orchestra’s bonus treats were the Valse Triste by Sibelius and the inevitable Fahey treatment of traditional Eightsome Reels. It always brings audiences to their feet, but in fact Thursday’s near-capacity house was there already.




Graf Zeppelin Haus, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE final concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s European tour contrived to demonstrate both the merited place of these musicians at the heart of Europe and the subtle differences between informed classical audiences from place to place.

Although tickets were around twice as expensive as they are in the orchestra’s home venues, this was another near-capacity house, initially less demonstrative in its appreciation, until its clapping along to the encore of Eightsome Reels proved much more rhythmic and the ovation at the end wildly enthusiastic. The simple explanation is that the British music played — Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Elgar’s Enigma Variations — was less familiar to the German listeners.

That made listening to the Elgar a particular pleasure, with the concentration on its unfolding mysteries palpable in the large hall. There is no question that the work, as well as being the composer’s most personal, is also one of the self-taught orchestrator’s finest achievements, and Sondergard’s way of presenting its narrative flow, with just a brief pause after Nimrod, was masterly. It was the quietest music that made the most impact — the soft winds of Variation IV before the sweeping strings of V, and the solo clarinet before the summation of the finale.

When Sondergard announced the first encore of one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances it was the name of the composer that elicited a couple of whoops from the auditorium, signalling a return to more familiar territory.

For this last appearance before she said her farewells to the RSNO musicians and caught an early flight to London and on to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards, Nicola Benedetti chose the Sibelius Violin Concerto that Scottish audiences had heard her play before Christmas. This was a more zesty and characteristic performance of it than we heard in Glasgow, especially in the first movement cadenza. The dialogue with principal viola Tom Dunn and the low winds a few bars later were also notable in a programme that was full of sparkling details.