Benedetti/Marsalis premiere: “dazzling” and “impressive”

Benedetti/Marsalis premiere: “dazzling” and “impressive”

(Photo credit: Daily Record/Garry McHarg)

The reviews are in and critics are unanimously lauding Nicola Benedetti’s performance of the Marsalis Violin Concerto as “dazzling”, “gutsy and dynamic”, “convincingly idiomatic” and “enormously impressive”. The Telegraph writes: “This concerto has been a labour of love for Nicola Benedetti, and she soared over its very challenging technical demands with a radiant lofty lyricism, touching intimate bluesiness, and furious rhythmic energy.”

Here is what Ivan Hewett from the Telegraph writes in his review:

“This was the Concerto in D for violin and orchestra by Wynton Marsalis, here receiving its world premiere.

The legendary trumpeter and composer, who is the musical director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is a passionate advocate of the civilising influence of jazz, but he’s never taken the view that the genre is exclusively African in its origins. On the contrary, he insists all kinds of European influences, including classical music and folk fiddle traditions, played a part in its making.

This concerto is the latest in a long line of classical works where Marsalis tries to make those kinships evident. In one respect it’s cautious, in the sense that it leaves no room for improvisation. But in every other it’s hugely ambitious. No other work of Marsalis’s seems to reach out so overtly to every aspect of America, not just African-America.

At some moments a Charles Ives-like tonal anarchy came over the music, at others a wide-open-spaces tranquility out of Copland, at others a wild hoedown jollity. And gospel and blues were never far away.

All this was pictured in a skillful orchestral score of over 40 minutes, at the centre of which was soloist Nicola Benedetti. This concerto has been a labour of love for her, and she soared over its very challenging technical demands with a radiant lofty lyricism, touching intimate bluesiness, and furious rhythmic energy.

On the basis of performing achievement and sheer inventiveness this premiere was enormously impressive …. In the Blues movement, a magnificent creation of Charles Mingus-like emotional gravity, the piece [touched] the heights that Marsalis was clearly striving for.”

Here is what Michael Church from the Independent writes in his review:

Benedetti is by nature a musical explorer, always ready to take on new challenges, and she was persuaded into this collaboration by the promise that she wouldn’t be expected to do that thing which terrifies all classical musicians – namely, improvise.

In its world premiere at the Barbican, with James Gaffigan and the London Symphony Orchestra providing support, this concerto opened with a Mahlerian lullaby on strings, through which Benedetti’s violin gracefully threaded its way. The tonality then began to veer between classical and jazz, with constant shifts in style and dynamics: one had the feeling that soloist and composer had opened their entire box of tricks, with Marsalis referencing everything from Mississippi blues to the Hot Club de France. In her first cadenza, Benedetti let rip with a melange of ferocious sawing and delicate, high-lying threads of melody: this music was technically demanding. The second movement saw her instrument emitting squeaks and chirps over a wah-wah brass bass, and it ended in a Scottish folk song with a double-stopped violin lament.

The third movement, a celebration of the blues, felt like the heart of the work. Here Benedetti’s playing was convincingly idiomatic, if it also periodically took on a Balkan tinge; although improvisation was not on the menu, this did feel improvised. The finale, ‘Hootenanny’, allowed yet more colours to emerge from the solo violin – I’ve never heard Benedetti project her sound with such mellow warmth – and it concluded with the double basses pumping bravely along while Benedetti’s sound gradually disappeared into the ether.”

Here is what by Gavin Dixon from TheArtsDesk writes in his review:

“A full house for a premiere performance: Wynton Marsalis bucks the trend in contemporary music. He’s an established name, more for his jazz than his classical work. But in recent years he has produced a substantial body of orchestral music, so the flocking crowds know what to expect. His new Violin Concerto continues the trend. … It received the most committed and consummate premiere performance this evening from Nicola Benedetti and the London Symphony Orchestra. Whatever its faults, it is hard to imagine the work ever sounding better than this.

The concerto is in four movements, beginning with a peaceful nocturne and gradually building through an animato second movement and a Deep South congregational third to a foot-stomping hoedown finale. Marsalis and Benedetti tell us they collaborated every step of the way, and the violin writing is carefully judged to exploit the best of her playing. The lyrical opening movement needs long, sustained phrases, which Benedetti amply provides. The orchestral textures are often bare (Marsalis gives us proficient orchestration, but it’s rarely imaginative), and so the music relies on the sheer tonal character of the violin, and again Benedetti is always able to maintain the interest. She also excels in the more gutsy rhythmic writing. Many of the episodes in the fourth movement hoedown begin in the violin – earthy folk fiddle licks – before being taken up by the orchestra. Each time, Benedetti’s solo entry proved as gutsy and dynamic as the full orchestra that followed.

For the full reviews, go to:
www.telegraph.co.uk/music/nicola-benedetti-barbican-review.
www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/benedetti-lso-gaffigan.
www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/benedetti-lso-gaffigan-barbican.