Album review: Nicola Benedetti’s latest album is an emotional journey through two diametrically opposed violin concertos
Shostakovich/Glazunov: Violin Concertos
If Nicola Benedetti is classical music’s poster girl, it’s a tag she wears incredibly well. The Scottish violinist signed a £1 million (Dh4m) recording contract as a teenager and yet has never let the attendant fame and fortune deter her from the serious business of learning, improving and challenging herself. Meanwhile, she is absolutely clear that her mission is to bring classical music to a new generation. With new record Shostakovich/Glazunov: Violin Concertos, the 28-year-old can essentially do no more. It’s a fantastically energetic, expressive, and at times, emotional journey through two diametrically opposed violin concertos.
First, Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A Minor. Famously one of the post-war compositions which the Russian composer kept back until the severe censorship of the Stalin dictatorship was over, its opening phases are as wildly dark and dramatic as Shostakovich’s feelings towards his mother country. Benedetti pitches it just right. She’s called the concerto harrowing to play, but she never trips into theatricality. It’s a measured, beautiful performance given ominous depth by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Benedetti cuts loose with the wild folk music of the Scherzo, offering her the chance to show off the virtuosity with which she has become synonymous. And by the time of the Passacaglia – without doubt the most famous section of this marvellous work, she’s on spectacular form, balancing poise and power. By the end of this remarkable concerto, it genuinely feels as if Benedetti – and the audience have both been on a journey of discovery through troubled 1940s Russia.
Against such drama, fellow Russian Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A Minor will always suffer somewhat: it’s a far less meaningful work, albeit eager to please. In the big, showstopping moments Benedetti is supremely confident, but it’s interesting to speculate that the experience of recording Shostakovich might have rubbed off on how she approached Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, too. Certainly on occasion she finds a rare profundity – especially in the second movement.
But then, that’s Benedetti for you. She’ll say that a piece is “dreamy and a bit more fun” – as she does of the Glazunov – but still lend it an urgency and vitality which, in the end, is why she is so important to classical music’s future. She’s said that she wants people who come to a concert for the first time to be blown away. Her performance of Shostakovich does just that. It’s brilliant.
Updated: July 4, 2016 04:00 AM