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Franck, Bruch, Schumann: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 6.11.2009 (SRT)

La chasseur maudit

Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1

Schumann: Symphony No. 1 Spring 

It’s amazing what a star violinist can do for your box office receipts. Nicola Benedetti’s name on the billing certainly helped to pack out the Usher Hall tonight but Benedetti is much more than a box office draw: she is an artist of the highest order, as her reading of the Bruch concerto showed. The virtuosic double-stops and runs of the opening movement were dashed off with panache, while the Gypsy-influenced fireworks of the finale sounded easy, even when contrasted with the grand theme which sees the work into its final strait. However it was the soaring melodies of the slow movement that, rightly, found her at her best. She controlled the long arches of melody with an eye to the long view as each gorgeous melody ran into the next, coaxing the last poetic nuance out of each note. The final flourish met with a tremendous ovation, but it’s the more lyrical episodes that will remain with me for longest.

As part of the Schumann bicentenary the RSNO is treating us to all four of his symphonies this season, and if this reading of the Spring is anything to go by then Scottish concert-goers are in for a treat. The tremendous sense of breadth to the opening fanfare melted easily into the breakneck first subject and this sense of energy catapulted the symphony through to its close. Jakub Hrůša really impressed with a reading that pumped with energy and cleanness of attack, not least in the Scherzo which is always difficult to pace. The finale’s skittish melodies and unexpected flourishes felt fresh and exuberant, but the conductor wasn’t afraid to broaden out in the lovely Larghetto whose autumnal feel brought a lovely contrast. Franck’s Accursed Huntsman was a really fantastic curtain-raiser. The story of the huntsman who refuses the call to church and is chased to his doom by demonic forces suited Hrůša’s dynamic sense of energy, the chase music threatening to take off like the huntsman himself. The only pause came for the pronouncement of the curse, a passage carrying a creeping sense of dread, building to an inexorable climax before the final gallop. A real treat.

Simon Thompson 


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