Music review: RSNO Europe Tour

Peter Oundjian
The Scotsman

Peter Oundjian kicked off (or almost) his tenure as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s music director with an international tour – an energetic five-stop New Year trip to China just a few months into the role. And only weeks before his final season concert with the orchestra, he’s led the players overseas again, this time on a more laid-back but no less whistlestop tour across Europe, covering five cities, four countries and five concerts in five days – and joined, as on previous tours, by violinist Nicola Benedetti.

First stop was Bregenz, Austria, where the super-modern concert hall backs onto the town’s famous opera stage floating on the waters of Lake Constance (currently offering two gigantic hands ruffling a deck of oversize cards as a backdrop for Carmen). The hall’s rather analytical acoustics, however, didn’t exactly flatter the orchestra’s playing at its opening concert (****). Nor did they help with the slight feeling that Oundjian and the band were still settling into the tour repertoire.

They might have done with a little more fire and fury, but Oundjian’s opening Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes were assertive and vibrant nonetheless – and the audience’s rather tentative response was almost certainly down to Austrian listeners’ unfamilarity with this music. Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was received far more warmly, however, in an energetic, finely detailed performance from Benedetti, joined by cellist Jan Vogler and pianist Martin Stadtfeld. Benedetti and Vogler made a natural pairing, ideally matched in their crisp, clean, characterful playing, but Stadtfelt seemed the odd man out, his somewhat mannered, effortful playing strangely at odds with the no-nonsense lyricism of his colleagues. In the many phrases that Beethoven passes back and forth between his three soloists, for example, it struck a disconcerting note.

Oundjian completed the opening programme with a granitic Brahms Fourth Symphony, its outer movements delivered with gritted-teeth determination, though it wasn’t without humour in its boisterous scherzo. The audience lapped it up – as well as the exuberant Khachaturian and Scottish reels in the orchestra’s duo of encores. Read the rest of the review here