Szymanowski / Chausson / Saint-Saens
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In terms of choice of music and the way in which it's performed, this debut CD from 17-year-old violinist Nicola Benedetti shows a real individuality and maturity. It's an interesting programme well suited to her excellent technique and tone, which she intuitively adapts to suit each of the works.
In Szymanowski's gorgeous First Concerto her intense vibrato integrates well with the orchestra - interestingly, at the other end of the scale from the classic recording by Wanda Wilkomirska who often played with no vibrato at all. This is an excellent performance though, with soaring lines and some impressive double-stopping, especially in the Kochanski cadenza, and Daniel Harding and the LSO draw lots of detail from the vivid, colourful score.
To follow, Benedetti choosesthree works by French composers. She adopts a warmer, fruitier violin sound in a well-paced, luminous performance of Saint-Saëns's Havanaise, before playing Massenet's Méditation from Thais with real poise and control. Best of all though is her stunningly mature performance of the Chausson Poème. This piece suits her playing perfectly and she produces a consistent line throughout as good as some of the greats of the past.
The disc ends with 2 world premieres. First, a rarity. Contemplations is Heifetz's arrangement of a song by Brahms, orchestrated here by Julian Reynolds, and Benedetti captures the romantic mood of the piece with great sweetness and a tone to match. To finish, though, and bring the music up to date, she plays an interesting and evocative work written specially for her by John Tavener - Fragment for the Virgin - giving a performance full of vibrancy, delicacy and control by turns.
This is an excellent and enjoyable CD and at just 17 Nicola Benedetti shows all the signs of becoming an accomplished and individual violinist.
Finally, an interesting innovation from DG - the inclusion of a backing track for the Massenet piece, guaranteed to get all those Grade 6 violinists playing along to the LSO in their own front rooms. It's a great idea, and a great CD. --Claire Rogers
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The Szymanowski is one part Debussy, one part Bartók, combining kaleidoscopic, non-functional harmonies with Eastern, modal flavor. It's a sprawling, fascinating piece, distinctive and unique -- one you'll return to, and want to hear other recordings of, as well. The Brahms Contemplation (an transcription of one of his lieder by Fritz Kriesler), the Massanet Meditation, the Saint-Saëns Havanaise, and the Taverner Fragment are all gorgeous, and played beautifully; and the Chausson Poème, perhaps my favorite piece on the disc, drew a tear... it's so beautiful as read here.
You're in for a real treat with this one. Still a teenager, Benedetti of course doesn't present this music with the sage wisdom of years; but that fact really only adds to her achievement here. If she's capable of this caliber of playing already, it excites me just to think of where she'll be in a decade, or in two. I'm eagerly awaiting her subsequent releases.