Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 1
Nicola Benedetti (vn); Jakub Hr??a, cond; Czech PO
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4764092 (60:25)
Times, they’re a changin’. Whereas in an earlier period a violinist might consider it necessary to defend pairing Felix Mendelssohn’s concerto with, say, one by Alfred Schnittke, nowadays Deutsche Grammophon’s publicity materials describe Nicola Benedetti’s “heavy” decision to pair Peter Ilyitch
Tchaikovsky’s and Max Bruch’s popular works. It can’t hurt to be careful, I guess, but what’s the downside? Possibly that a reviewer will hear another indistinguishable lackluster version of two warhorses that have ridden through more battles than anyone cares to count. Luckily that’s not the case in Benedetti’s reading of Tchaikovsky’s concerto; from the beginning her tone flows as thick as a famous ketchup in passages that she stamps with a personality that, if it isn’t at once identifiable, still doesn’t sound quite like anyone else’s. Her bloom on the G string and her way with the tenderest passages, both individual, leave fingerprints, as she does even in thickets of technical difficulties. If her reading of the first movement lacks the forward drive of Leopold Auer’s students Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, she compensates by allowing listeners to luxuriate in detail
. Nevertheless, occasionally Benedetti seems to grind her way through double-stops (David Oistrakh also gave that impression at times; Zino Francescatti once remarked that Oistrakh even seemed to slow down, which Francescatti took as a mark of integrity, on occasion in difficult passages). On the other hand, in the first movement’s cadenza, Benedetti sounds as though she’s doing more than spinning notes. At the end of the movement, she accelerates into a frenzied coda. The orchestra provides thumping support and the engineers have captured their soloist close up but still in a balance that shouldn’t offend purists. Benedetti is insinuating in the slow movement—she seems far less straightforward in her approach than did most violinists of the golden age—but she’s never mannered or eccentric, and always keeps her tone burnished. Still, she indulges in few portamentos, even discreet ones. In the finale, as well, she seems more herself in lyrical moments than in brilliant ones, though she surely possesses the kind of technique that could call attention to them.
It would seem that such an armamentarium as Benedetti’s would be ideal for a campaign such as that required for Bruch’s First Concerto, but she apparently doesn’t find in its opening so much reason to mine her violin for tonal nuance as she does in Tchaikovsky’s work. Still, she’s more responsive to opportunities for lyricism than have been ruddier, more straightforward violinists like Isaac Stern; and she certainly isn’t one of the faceless crowd. For example, she creates a complete tonal world in only her first two or three notes in the second movement. On occasion, in Stern’s first recording from 1956, his tone, such as it may have been at that time, almost seemed to throb. These moments abound in Benedetti’s reading. Her finale struts.
Those who harbor some doubts as to whether the training (over-training?) of young violinists hasn’t transformed them into so many clones should listen to Benedetti’s performance of these popular works. It shouldn’t be so “heavy” a decision for collectors to acquire it as her own decision to record it. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
This is the fifth disc that Nicola Benedetti has recorded for DG since her remarkable win in the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest seven years ago when she was only 16. Till now, rather surprisingly but with great success, her discs have offered relatively rare repertory including new pieces by such composers as James MacMillan and John Tavener, but here for the first time she launches out on the central repertory in the much-repeated Bruch G minor and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos.
It makes an excellent coupling, and Benedetti’s interpretations have much that is individual in them, notably that more regularly than most great virtuosos on disc she uses very often the gentlest of whispered pianissimos, with impressive effect. She establishes that quality in the long first movement of the Tchaikovsky, where so many artists in the lyrical second subject play with a big, fat tone. Her phrasing too is freely expressive, but her regular use of extreme rubato rarely if ever sounds contrived, always spontaneous and from the heart.
The second movement Canzonetta is taken dangerously slowly, but Benedetti sustains it well with no hint of self-consciousness and again with magical pianissimos. The finale is extreme in the opposite direction, very fast indeed, again with big tonal and dynamic contrasts, leading up to a thrilling coda.
The Bruch is just as compelling. The first movement is deeply meditative with exceptionally clean and precise double-stopping. As in the Tchaikovsky the slow movement is unusually slow and played with much rubato, but the result is deeply thoughtful and well sustained with inner tensions conveyed, while Jakub Hrusa draws from the Czech Philharmonic playing that’s just as free in use of rubato, a tribute to the players’ responsiveness and to his control.
The finale is then cleanly done and kept in relatively strict time, not pulled about in the face of technical difficulties. Altogether a very competitive coupling of two of the great violin warhorses, a credit to a fine young artist and her associates.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nicola Benedetti (Violin)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1878; Russia
Concerto for Violin no 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch
Nicola Benedetti (Violin)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1868; Germany
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