Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE Benedetti effect meant that the Concert Hall was packed to the rafters, and the average age of the RSNO’s Saturday night audience reduced by about a decade thanks to the presence of many young followers of the violinist. There was no children’s menu on offer, however — this was a meaty programme, and Nicola Benedetti far from the only star on the platform.

Young German conductor Christian Reif has already built a formidable reputation on the west coast of America as well as across Europe, and from the way he handled the Shostakovich Festive Overture that opened the programme it was immediately clear why. He took the work at a very brisk pace, but it was a model of clarity both in his direction and the playing of the musicians, from the crisp brass at the beginning. Reif is a big chap, who conducts with the flair of a fencing instructor, and his expressive hands and quick baton were in every corner of the orchestra.

Come the Sibelius Violin Concerto, it was just as apparent that the conductor and soloist had a good rapport, but there was also something new and special in the forged precision of Benedetti’s performance. From the carefully measured opening, through the early cadenza to her dialogue with first viola Tom Dunn in the lengthy first movement, each note was particularly distinct even in the fastest virtuoso passages. By the tuneful finale, it was undeniable that her playing seemed less “gutsy” than previously, and was all the more compelling for that.

The orchestral winds that were similarly poised at the start of the concerto’s slow movement had plenty further opportunity to shine in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the second half. The Russian composer’s tunes and clever sequencing are only half the story of course, with Maurice Ravel’s exceptional orchestration just as crucial to the work’s popularity. Once again the RSNO brass were on masterly form, and Chris Hart, Davur Magnusson and their colleagues won deserved cheers from the large audience at the end.