Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

five stars

I HAVE to hand it to the RSNO. When they pull the stops out, there is no limit to the style and panache in their armoury. Day by day in the first week of their new season, and all in a build-up to their opening blockbuster concert in Glasgow on Saturday, they unveiled new initiatives. I’ve already mentioned their welcoming of cameras, filming, phones and social media into an open dress rehearsal with Nicola Benedetti. I haven’t mentioned the fact that, with Benedetti, they recorded a programme for Classic FM, which this season will be heavily involved with the orchestra; nor that on Monday the orchestra, with music director Peter Oundjian, established an acoustic template for the RSNO Centre’s auditorium; and nor that, on Friday, they issued a new RSNO app that will furnish all the programme information and anything else you need to know about the organisation.

Finally, on Saturday, came the opening concert, for which the Royal Concert Hall was completely sold out. And, as I pretty much predicted during a long RSNO week, it was a cracker of a show, with the aforementioned panache spilling over into Peter Oundjian’s swirling waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade.

However, I found my interest rising exponentially as I listened to Nicola Benedetti’s magnetic account of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I don’t know how to quantify this, and if I’m wrong I’m wrong, but it seemed to me that from her first entry, where the solo violin has absolutely no orchestral cover, she captured and somehow extended the intimacy of that moment right through the first movement. Even the big tunes and flourishes, even the cadenza, with its slithering glissando moments, failed to budge that essential "interior" quality from my mind. The movement was all close-up. It felt like big-scale chamber music.

That in turn, following the intrinsically-intimate slow movement, which morphed into the finale, made that last movement seem the more impetuous and explosive with Benedetti, gloves off, hair flying and piratical spirit unleashed, delivering a sensational, spring-loaded climax to the amazing piece. After the interval, Oundjian and the RSNO, with immaculate structuring and acute timing in their epically-scaled account of Rachmaninov’s glorious Second Symphony, gave the most searchingly-emotional performance I have ever heard from this team. I was overwhelmed.