Nicola Benedetti

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35
Havanaise, Op.83
Poème, Op.25
Thaïs – Méditation (plus “performance track”)
Brahms arr. Heifetz, orch. Reynolds
“Contemplation” (Wie melodien zieht es mir, Op.105/1)
Fragment for the Virgin

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall, London; no information on recording dates is supplied in the CD’s documentation

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: May 2005
CD No: DG 987 057-7
Duration: 73 minutes

There are two ways of launching the recording career of a young artist. One is the calling-card type of release, at a competitive price, a kind of market test; and the less-frequent option, the one adopted here, is the full-frontal approach, a full-price issue with a major marketing campaign. This is Scottish violinist’s Nicola Benedetti’s first recording; she won the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition.

DG has not spent its money without premeditation. At several levels there is evidence of intelligent thought: the pairing of youth – Benedetti and Daniel Harding – with experience – the LSO – backed up by top-class production values; the choice of repertoire includes a pretty accessible, 20th-century concerto leavened with some lollipops; and the product is carefully designed to appeal to a youthful audience: the final track repeats the “Thaïs” Méditation without the soloist, enabling aspiring violinists to join in.

None of this would cut much ice were the performances not worth hearing. Fortunately, they are. Benedetti clearly feels a particular affinity for Szymanowski’s first concerto – her teacher is Polish and courageously she played it at the final of BBC Young Musician. Her account, ably supported by Harding and the LSO, stands up well against Zehetmair’s with Rattle and the CBSO (although the latter is more naturally recorded). Where Benedetti really scores is in her instinctive feeling for the voluptuous languor of Szymanowski’s soundworld.

Interestingly, the concerto is rather more successful than Saint-Saëns’s Havanaise – perhaps today we have lost the capacity for sheer elegance in lighter music and Harding’s accompaniment is definitely overweight. The large-scale Chausson Poème, one of those works which survives through recordings, is almost wholly successful, its half-lights and subdued passion admirably caught. Curious that both this and the Szymanowski, the more elusive works, should seem to pose fewer problems for these performers whereas the lighter music (Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and the Brahms transcription) are more self-conscious.

Finally, Fragment for the Virgin, a short piece by Sir John Tavener written specially for Benedetti. Coming directly after the fragrant Massenet and the Brahms arrangement, the initial impression is oddly arresting and memorable. Unlike most of Tavener’s music, this piece does not outstay its welcome. However, the main attractions are the Szymanowski and Chausson, both works were Oistrakh specialities, and well worth hearing. The booklet leaves something to be desired; there are pages devoted to ringtones and ‘thank you’, and there are credits for hair stylists – but there is no information regarding recording dates, which is sloppy.

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