Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Adagio in E, K261
Rondo in C, K373
Ständchen [Schwanengesang, D957, arr. Stephens]
Ave Maria, D839 [violin part arr. Wilhelmj and ed. Heifetz, with harp accompaniment arr. Skaila Kanga]
Nicola Benedetti (violin/director)
Skaila Kanga (harp)
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
James MacMillan [except Mozart & Ave Maria]
Recorded on 26 & 27 January 2006 in Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2006
CD No: DG 476 315-9
Duration: 57 minutes
For her second recording, Nicola Benedetti includes a fresh and invigorating account of the evergreen Mendelssohn concerto, played with relish and poise and with an integrity that is beguiling. While perhaps a little too consciously playing for the microphones (although this impression became less so on a second and third listen), her musicianship has both sparkle and sensitivity and she greets this work like an old friend, although it is no doubt a new one to her.
Particularly satisfying is the wholeness of the conception – the episodes in the first movement are naturally linked and the middle movement is a ‘true’ Andante, the flowing tempo imbued with a simplicity of feeling that has more to say than a more contrived and convoluted approach might do. Throughout, Benedetti’s gently ardent playing, nimbly articulate in the finale, is enhanced by a lively and detailed response from the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. James MacMillan, now developing a career as a conductor of varied repertoire, ensures a tactile response from the orchestra, with some lovely woodwind contributions, all of which ensures a new-minted account of this loveliest of violin concertos. If, as recorded, fortissimos are slightly edgy, the sound is uncluttered and beautifully balanced between violin and orchestra.
MacMillan’s own From Ayrshire is an atmospheric conclusion to this release, the violinist musing on a Scottish song (the well-known ‘Ca the Yowes’, seemingly the creation of Robert Burns, rather than being of the ‘folk’ variety). Such reflection turns to greater emotional import; it’s a heart-touching piece that concludes with an energetic, somewhat crazed (maybe inebriated) reel.
Played with affection rather than affectation, the indelible melody of Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade, from the thrown-together song-cycle “Schwanengesang”) is as arranged by one Stephens (no more on the arranger is forthcoming in booklet notes that relate Skaila Kanga’s harp contribution to the wrong piece). Stephens (who turns out to be Ian, a Liverpool-based composer) has done a reasonable job in approximating Schubert for this voice-and-piano to violin-and-orchestra adaptation. “Ave Maria”, as arranged August Wilhelmj (involved in preparing Wagner’s Bayreuth Orchestra) for violin and further edited by Heifetz, is the piece with the harp contribution (the instrument’s timbre rather anticipating that Saint-Saëns’s swan is about to glide by). Heifetz cues mention that Benedetti enjoys, at times, a little bit of old-world ‘throbbing’ in the violin’s top register; her use of it is well-judged, in-keeping, and adds distinction to her, natural musicianship, composure and composer-serving attributes.
This enjoyable collection also includes two Mozart ‘shorts’ that are played with style and affection and just the right amount of emotional intensity in the Adagio and with an agreeable elegance and display in the Rondo.