Nicola Benedetti

Nicola Benedetti Plays Mendelssohn, MacMillan & Mozart

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The good news keeps on coming from the bow of Italian-Scots youngster Nicola Benedetti, who takes on the king of all the warhorses, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, for her second album, and delivers a fresh, well-worked-out interpretation. Benedetti, with expert support from the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under James MacMillan, avoids any overwrought quality that might have been brought on by the pressures of making a high-profile recording in a shrinking major-label classical environment. Indeed, her entire conception of the Mendelssohn concerto is not only smaller in scale than might have been expected, it is smaller than the modern norm for the work. The difference is apparent right from the concerto's striking opening, where many violinists try to crank out auditorium-sized sound to match the swelling stormy passions in the orchestral strings. Benedetti, here and throughout, is slender in tone and strongly oriented toward distinctively shaping the work's individual melodies. Technically she is very sharp, and in faster passages she's rather sprite-like. Her reading of the long first movement is full of nice details that fill out her reflective, poetic conception. Hear the almost vanishing high note just before the beginning of the coda, for example -- it's like a fading shard of a firework. The concerto as a whole comes off as somewhat episodic in Benedetti's hands; the normally sharp contrast between the intense opening movement and the repose of the Andante is reduced. Her interpretation accords with that of German violinist Joseph Joachim, quoted in the booklet (which contains useful text, imprisoned by miserable graphic design), who called Mendelssohn's "the most inward, the heart's jewel" of the great German violin concertos. Benedetti herself conducts the two rather slight single-movement pieces for violin and orchestra and sets up numerous moments of pure charm for her own violin. The album winds down nicely with warm, lyrical music that complements the Mendelssohn, although things deteriorate toward the end. The violin-and-harp arrangement of the Schubert Ave Maria (track 7) breaks the flow of orchestral music in a cheesy way, and From Ayrshire, the compositional contribution by conductor MacMillan, diverges from the bright, youthful mood of the rest of the music-making. Even in these works, however, Benedetti's playing is quite compelling. If there is a future for charismatic classical "stars," marketed by big labels and touring the famous concert halls of the world, it lies with young artists like this one, who keep their wits about them and figure out what it is that they hope to communicate to audiences.

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