The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s first US tour in thirty-five years includes two concerts in West Palm Beach, of which this was the first. The curtain-raiser was the Overture (as realized by Glazunov) to Borodin’s unfinished opera, Prince Igor, its melodies reflecting the plot by juxtaposing Russian and Oriental themes, some of which are familiar from having been adapted, along with other Borodin works, by Robert Wright & George Forrest for the musical, Kismet. Peter Oundjian led a lively account that brought out the music’s bright colors.
Nicola Benedetti gave a muscular performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Oundjian and the RSNO set the stage with a fine account of the introduction and were more partners than accompanists throughout. Benedetti drove forward aggressively, with brilliant technique in complex passagework and in Joachim’s cadenza, with the dolce transition back to the principal theme a memorable moment. In the Adagio, Adrian Wilson’s gorgeous oboe solo was echoed by Benedetti, who drew a lush tone from her 1717 Stradivarius. In the Gypsy-tinged Finale, her instrument sang out sweetly and she dashed off intricate figures.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony proved a superb showpiece for the RSNO. The recurring ‘Fate’ fanfares rang out brilliantly from the brass, the woodwinds were agile, not least in a bouncy solo from Josef Pacewicz’s clarinet in the first movement’s waltz-influenced section, and the strings were outstanding in projecting lyrical melodies. As in the Brahms, the slow movement began with Wilson’s oboe, after which the cellos sang out richly, and David Hubbard’s plangent bassoon brought things to a close.
The Scherzo was a tour de force, not only for the strings, but also the other sections, each looking to supplant the perpetual pizzicato. Oundjian spared nothing in the Finale, bringing the percussion to the forefront as bass drum and innumerable cymbal clashes resonated loudly and the triangle gently colored the folk-like second subject. The reprise of the ‘Fate’ motif cast a dark shadow, but the mood quickly turned cheerful as the Symphony rocketed toward its emphatic final chords. As an encore, Oundjian led a rollicking ‘Eightsome Reel’. Let’s hope that US audiences have another opportunity soon to appreciate the outstanding RSNO.