It is thrilling to hear a full orchestra at full stretch in any repertoire at the moment, but this Royal Scottish National Orchestra programme of rarely heard repertoire, was a pure delight.

Nicola Benedetti and the RSNO
© Martin Shields

To contradict myself immediately, Szymanowski's First Violin Concerto has now moved towards being a regular repertoire piece. This is largely due to the advocacy of the tonight’s soloist, Nicola Benedetti, who played it brilliantly to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004 and has continued to perform it across the world. It is a fabulous concerto, so full of inspired thematic material and wild romantic impulses that it should literally sweep audiences off their feet. Written for a large orchestra, it is a masterpiece of orchestration, not only in the huge variety of its colours, but also in how it allows the soloist to cut through the intricacies of the orchestral tapestry.

Benedetti gave an exemplary account, effortlessly traversing the technical demands and producing a tone that managed to be both strong and sensuous. However, Thomas Søndergård’s conducting was counter-intuitive in a work that demands a sense of spontaneity and wildness of spirit. One sensed he was trying to find a Sibelian structural thread that isn’t the point of the work. He held back on the orchestral climaxes trying to build to the final outburst, but this tidying up of the structure wasn’t necessary and detracted from the heated atmosphere of hedonism. Saying that, the performance made an impact of its own and as an interpretation it was still emotionally impactful and superbly executed by the RSNO.

Thomas Søndergård conducts the RSNO
© Martin Shields

Mieczysław Weinberg's Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes is a work in the vein of Bartók’s Dance Suite. While it lacks the formal cohesion of that famous work, it certainly has a charming flavour of its own. Written to please the Soviet authorities in the late 1940s, it failed to do so and, like the rest of his compositions, it fell on deaf ears, disappearing without trace. Only recently has Weinberg’s reputation being undergoing reassessment and works like the Rhapsody are now being picked up by conductors and audiences. The RSNO played this short work with the dedication and clarity of rhythmic attack that it required.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra
© Martin Shields

The final work, Andrzej Panufnik's Sinfonia sacra, is such a powerful work that its neglect in the concert hall is scandalous. The fact that Shostakovich 5, Janáček’s Sinfonietta and Sibelius 5 – all works it resembles – are wheeled out constantly and recorded repeatedly and this work is assigned to being “a rarity” is completely mystifying. Søndergård and the RSNO were completely under its skin. The primary colours blazed and every department of the orchestra was so palpably engaged that the bittersweet victory of the final passage was almost overwhelming.


This performance was reviewed from the RSNO video stream

Nicola Benedetti and the RSNO
© Martin Shields
Thomas Søndergård conducts the RSNO
© Martin Shields
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra
© Martin Shields