Philharmonia Orchestra/Wolff Nicola Benedetti – Berlioz, Sibelius & Rachmaninov

Overture, Le carnaval romain, Op.9
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Symphonic Dances, Op.45

Nicola Benedetti (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Hugh Wolff

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 30 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

First up, a tautly played performance Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture with a fine, expressive cor anglais solo from Jill Crowther and some ripe, expansive brass as Hugh Wolff whipped up the Philharmonia Orchestra towards a glittering climax.

Nicola Benedetti. Photograph: Simon Fowler/UniversalIn Sibelius’s Violin Concerto Nicola Benedetti confirmed herself as an artist who puts the music first. It was clear from the opening lyrical theme that this was not going to be the most muscular of performances; Benedetti’s was an understated approach, her warm tone and elegant phrasing making for a thoughtful and sensitive reading and, in the second movement Adagio, deeply affecting. The occasional blemish in the first movement was a shame for Benedetti was otherwise technically unflappable, negotiating the cadenza with consummate ease. The finale was taken at a measured pace, the thrumming rhythms of the Philharmonia Orchestra providing sufficient excitement. Perhaps the gypsy-flavoured melody could have had more swing but this was an exciting performance overall.

Sadly Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances never really got off the ground. Wolff’s tempo for the opening movement, for all that it is marked Non Allegro, was far too slow, the heavy staccato chords lacking bite. This is Rachmaninov’s last work and shows no let-up in his creativity and his Russian fervour. Here, the vitality that should be part of any performance of this intense swansong was in short supply and the pained, yearning quality that is apparent in the great melodies was entirely absent, although Simon Haram’s saxophone solo in the first movement was pure in tone. Wolff ‘s very deliberate pacing of the second movement made the waltz measures leaden and robbed the music of menace. The outer sections of the finale were certainly more dynamic with the emphasis more on volume than with the build-up of tension, the middle section once again sluggish.

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