Festspielhaus, Bregenz

Keith Bruce, four stars

THE spectacular set for this summer’s production of Bizet’s Carmen on the outdoor stage on the shore of Lake Constance has yet to be populated, but there was not a seat to be had in the indoor concert hall of the Austrian city’s striking venue.

The visit by Scotland’s national orchestra and conductor Peter Oundjian was the start of a whistle stop five-concert tour of four countries. It could scarcely have had a more auspicious opening and won a rapturous reception from the very elegant capacity house.

The big work that features in every concert is the Fourth Symphony of Johannes Brahms, which many of these ticket-buyers will know as well as the musicians and of which Oundjian gives a carefully measured reading that reveals many of the strengths of the orchestra. Led by Sharon Roffmann, the RSNO strings are currently on top form and the winds and horns, with whom they share the composer’s best tunes, feature solo voices of great character as well as sectional coherence. With the movements firmly delineated, there was little radical in this Brahms, but that was assuredly to the taste of the listeners.

The opening Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten was obviously less familiar territory for them, but it is a superb orchestral showcase with some of the composer’s most atmospheric and dramatic scoring and principal flute Katherine Bryan led the list of stellar individual contributions.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is far from his best known work, doubtless because of the requirement for three soloists. The orchestra’s resident artist this season, cellist Jan Vogler, is flanked by violinist Nicola Benedetti and pianist Martin Stadtfeld for these performances of a piece that often seems like Beethoven at his very joliest, and with some of his brightest melodies. The role of the orchestra ebbs and flows to allow the trio to share some of the intimacy of chamber music in a performance that is certain to reveal further riches as the tour progresses.