Violin Concerto No.5 in A, K219 (Turkish)
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 30 November, 2004
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
In the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, this concert marked Scottish-born Nicola Benedetti’s London concerto debut; she recently gave a Wigmore Hall recital. Still only 17, she first came to national attention in 2002 when she won Carlton Television’s competition “Britain’s Brilliant Prodigies”. Ironically, one of nicest things about her playing is precisely the lack of those qualities that one associates with prodigies. Her playing is totally natural, unaffected, and devoid of any hint of egocentricity. She won this year’s “BBC Young Musician of the Year”.
On this occasion, after a rather too weighty orchestral introduction, she made an immediate impression with her poised perfectly timed first entry, like a still small voice. Thereafter, her intonation and her bow control took time to settle and the cadenzas, especially that to the first movement, were far too long, beautifully though she played them. The slow movement was elegantly spun although Bátiz’s accompaniment was hardly the last word in Mozart style, lacking a true legato, and it was also inclined to over-forcefulness in the ‘Turkish’ episodes of the finale. Benedetti’s playing however was well worth hearing for its natural charm and unforced musicality. With her pleasing platform manner she will doubtless go far. In March 2005 she makes her Carnegie Hall debut.
Fortunately, the second half of the programme was rather better than might have been expected in the light of the charm-less, overblown Rosamunde Overture with which the concert had opened – the RPO’s trombone section really needs a firm hand generally, and especially in the relatively confined spaces of Cadogan Hall; one would have thought it was Wagner being played rather than Schubert. The Beethoven received an agreeably brisk and straightforward performance, first-movement repeat taken, some sensitive solos from flute and clarinet in the slow movement, a reasonably paced scherzo allowing for the trio to be integrated without obvious gear-change. Only the finale was too fast for its own good – had I been the unfortunate bassoonist expected to play my solo at this impossible lick, I would have had a few words with the conductor!
Listening to the Beethoven from the rear of Cadogan Hall’s balcony, the orchestral sound seemed altogether better balanced, more natural and preferable to when heard downstairs, although bands such as the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will sound particularly satisfactory in this medium-sized hall.
The Royal Philharmonic is offering some imaginative programming in Cadogan Hall in coming weeks. “The Snow Queen”, featuring Juliet Stevenson on December 9th & 10th, and “The Food of Love”, an evening of Shakespearean Music, Verse and Anecdote with Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart on January 16th. Cadogan Hall is a major asset for London, and is likely to become all the more so with the 18-month closure of the Festival Hall from next July. If Cadogan Hall is to attract a regular audience, the venue needs to promote a coherent monthly programme of events.