Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

WITH soloist Nicola Benedetti’s first concert performances of Elgar’s Concerto and the violinist adding her name to the supporters of medical charity Tenovus Scotland on the same evening as music director Peter Oundjian launched his final season programme of blockbuster works with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, there was a lot on the agenda at the RSNO’s home venue on Saturday.

Despite that, the opening work, Velocity, by Gavin Higgins made its own brilliant impact. The young composer is more familiar to dance audiences in Scotland, his new music soundtracking visits by Rambert Dance Company twice in recent years. This momentous piece, unveiled at the Proms in 2014, had its Scottish premiere as part of the Resonate initiative promoting further performances of contemporary music, supported by the PRS Foundation, BBC and the Association of British Orchestras. Its sonic kinship with the Rite of Spring was a coincidence, but a very happy one.

The attention to detail and polished clarity that Oundjian and the musicians brought to the Stravinsky, every note and every bar given its precise weight, was revelatory. Here was a musical Rite rather than an especially dramatic one: it would not have served the dancers of Scottish Ballet, by more remarkable coincidence performing to the same piece a stone’s throw away at the Theatre Royal, as effectively as conductor Jean-Claude Picard’s account with the Ballet Orchestra. But the bigger band found unexplored riches in the score far beyond any temptation of slavery to the rhythm.

That considered narrative approach was also evident in Benedetti’s account of the Elgar, the dynamic range of her playing perfectly calibrated for maximum ensemble engagement with the orchestra, particularly the strings. There may be virtuoso content aplenty in the solo part, but it was the intensity of the dialogue between her final movement cadenza and the combination of strummed and bowed notes across the sections that was unforgettably breath-catching.