Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Tom Service (presenter)
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 4 November, 2021
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London
A concert with a couple of familiar favourites, a popular soloist, and an orchestra and conductor who like to challenge and educate: the Queen Elizabeth Hall was at capacity.
Mendelssohn is always a feel-good composer. Yet, as Tom Service reminded in his brief and engaging introduction, Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin Concerto was a work that broke the mould (the early entry of the soloist for starters), the almost continuous flow of the three movements, and careful integration of cadenzas. With this in mind, and the ever-responsive interactive playing of the Aurora Orchestra, Nicola Benedetti launched into the Concerto with gusto, eking out a filigree and sweet tone, relishing the rendition as her occasional beaming smiles showed, notably at the start of the second movement heralded by some lovey bassoon playing. Of course, she dazzled too: making light of the technical challenges, and brought the work to an exuberant close. She was rewarded by a small child (hopefully a budding violinist of discernment) coming to the front of the stage apron to present her with a bunch of yellow roses. We all felt good!
A speedy reset to remove the music stands, and back the players were to aid Service and Nicholas Collon to outline the history and dissect the rhythmic drivers of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in a witty way, and with some sung demonstration of key aspects of the work. This encouraged some audience participation, included some delicious musical puns (e.g. timpaknees) and jokes, and the odd wry observations (the second violins are on the same pay scale as the firsts). Thus, the audience was well prepared to listen afresh, to find ‘Beethoven’ and ‘Beethoven marches’, and to consider the Scottish country dance origins (!) of the thematic material of the final movement, and the felicities of the coda.
Of course, in the Aurora way, the Symphony was played from memory, and the immediacy this brings to its performances is always evident. Collon’s tempos were on the fleet side, but the musical drivers were ever-present. The thematic baton-passes were perfectly executed, although the acoustic did not favour the woodwind where they were placed. The third movement was particularly extrovert.