Nicola Benedetti (Photo credit: Simon Fowler)
Review: Benedetti brings a sensational Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to Birmingham
By Robert Gainer
December 9, 2016
Initially I had thought the marketing for this concert to be rather overdone. The prospect of the excellent City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing Richard Strauss’s awe-inspiring and monumental Ein Heldenleben was barely visible in the small print. Benedetti’s countenance graced the advertising, the programme cover, the website and hers was the only name on the ticket other than Tchaikovsky. Strauss, for all his heroic effort, had been reduced to a programme filler, and poor old Rimsky-Korsakov hardly got a mention at all. The pressure was on for Benedetti to live up to the expectations that had been set for her by the marketing department, and for conductor Omer Meir Wellber to deliver up something special with Strauss.
Strauss’s work was performed in the second half of the concert. The pinnacle of the evening, however, came in the first half with Nicola Benedetti‘s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35. My earlier misgivings on the hyperbole bestowed on Nicola Benedetti had been misplaced. This young woman not only met the expectations created by the marketing team, she exceeded them and then some with a truly mesmerising and absorbing solo performance. Her interpretation of the Tchaikovsky’s concerto, one of only three works he wrote for violin and orchestra, was nothing short of sublime.
The concerto, deemed unplayable by the violinist Leopold Auer to whom the composer initially presented it, is a technical challenge for any virtuoso. Yet Benedetti is so masterful on her instrument that the immense technique the concerto demands seemed as natural to her as breathing. But this was not a performance to marvel at her technical brilliance. It was that these demands were never the slightest distraction from her delivery of the narrative.
That narrative was completely at odds with the Strauss that was to follow. If Ein Heldenleben is about strident epic (and somewhat narcissistic) heroism, Tchaikovsky’s concerto explores human warmth and companionship. The main theme of the Allegro moderato – moderato assai is lyrical and enchanting. Benedetti’s interpretation was warm and intimate, and her cadenza transfixed with tonal depths and glints of light that outshone even the glittering shimmer of her sparkling indigo gown. The Canzonetta: andante was beguiling in its beauty. Once Benedetti had drawn us into the character of the concerto she led us a-dance in a folk theme that conjured up images of convivial Russian village life. This was a masterful and memorable performance and clearly, on this occasion, the Benedetti-hype was wholly justified.
To read the entire review, click here.