WORKS: Violin Concerto in E minor; From Ayrshire
PERFORMER: Nicola Benedetti (violin); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/James MacMillan
CATALOGUE NO: DG 476 3159
Nicola Benedetti is nothing if not brave. Her debut album focussed on Szymanowski, an ideal first choice for this gifted young player. For the follow-up she’s gone to the other extreme with Mendelssohn’s evergreen E minor Concerto, a work recorded by just about every virtuoso who has ever ventured into the recording studio.
It’s a work that requires a very specific kind of sound: lithe, transparent, pure, elegant, fine-spun – all qualities that Benedetti possesses in abundance, and which she shares with the likes of Christian Ferras and Nathan Milstein.
Most importantly she plays with the kind of rapt concentration and easy command that has one forgetting the business of comparisons altogether, allowing one to enjoy the freshness of Mendelssohn’s inspiration anew.
The jewel-like slow movement is a particular success: conductor James MacMillan relishes the magical transition into that famous, gently flowing melody, and Benedetti creates a true sotto voce for the reprise – a wonderful moment.
Milstein still has the edge, but no one getting to know this glorious score via Benedetti’s account would feel anything less than enchanted. The Schubert and Mozart miniatures are also beautifully played, but it’s MacMillan’s From Ayrshire that makes the greatest impression here, with its hazy atmospherics, and soaring violin line, sounding for all the world like a latter-day The Lark Ascending in its opening pages.
Here Benedetti is at her inspired best, playing the exciting final section with a bracing, invigorating freedom. Julian Haylock