“…the RSNO, which since their return from China in January has been playing at world class standard. “
I have commended the RSNO on the creativity and intelligence of their programme planning since I started writing about them some three years ago, and on Friday there was a fine example of this. For sure, Nicola Benedetti, the forces sweetheart of the Central Belt, will always fill the hall, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is ever popular, but Thomas Ades and Wynton Marsalis? Now that was a risk, but, boy, did it pay off.
Effectively this was Jazz Night at the Usher Hall, and, strangely enough it was the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra by Wynton Marsalis that had the strongest classical nuances, not the Ades.
Powder Her Face by Thomas Ades was his first opera, based on a sex scandal involving the then Duchess of Argyll, and was a cut down work comprising just four singers and an ensemble of three clarinets, a brass trio and a string quintet with piano, harp, accordion and percussion. Ades’ Dances, written later but for that same opera, is what we heard and was an eleven-minute full on full orchestra shebang which certainly expressed the Duchess’s hedonistic lifestyle. To say it was played with wild abandon would be to criticise the orchestra. It was played with controlled abandon. But abandon there certainly was, a gorgeous, unrestrained, schmaltzy piece bordering on the burlesque.
More familiar was A Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess, a 23-minute composite of our favourite songs orchestrated by Fritz Reiner for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1943. The work held together with remarkable integrity and was a joy to listen to. Again, the RSNO didn’t hold back and we were treated to some rich, unrestrained playing in the jazz rather than classical orchestral tradition, showing the orchestra’s versatility under the guiding arm of Sondergard’s enlightened baton.
Without doubt the draw of the evening was the newly honoured Nicola Benedetti (is she the youngest CBE in the country?) playing the Scottish premiere of the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra by Wynton Marsalis, especially written for her. Introduced by Sondergard as a work as long as a symphony (50 minutes) it never palled. I would describe the opening movement, Rhapsody, as a beautiful lyric piece yet in the jazz idiom, albeit classically constructed. The second, Rondo Burlesque, was all over the place but a fun listen. During the third movement, Blues, Benedetti showed us some beautiful solo playing with the support of the string section in some unusual and effective pizzicato. Come the finale, Hootenanny, notwithstanding the Scottish title, I felt we were more likely in a barn dance, it was terrific, exciting, fun and to cap it all Benedetti concluded the piece by walking off the stage still playing the final refrain.
This is the third consecutive review that I have written in the past fortnight that has received our highest accolade, five stars, which shows the incredibly high standard of music available currently in Edinburgh. Two of these go to the RSNO, which since their return from China in January has been playing at world class standard. Rather than give an encore Benedetti concluded the evening by thanking the generosity of the RSNO in giving free tickets to a number of Midlothian young musicians who had been taking a workshop that afternoon with the orchestra; obliquely referring to the current threat to axe instrumental tuition in Midlothian for schoolchildren below S4. If the seniors in the audience want their children and grandchildren to continue to listen to home grown music of this quality, the answer lies in their pockets, though of course Nicola was too nice to say this. But we knew what she meant.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 8 February)
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