Mary Woodward at the Festivals

Edinburgh International Festival, Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Usher Hall, Review:

**** (4 stars)

“pure beauty”

Well, that was very curate’s egg… [for those readers too young to know of the Punch cartoon, it signifies ‘good in parts’] – though the audience thought it was all utterly fantastic, and applauded loud and long.

I came to the concert for Nicola Benedetti, not for the music.  Last year I marvelled at her technical brilliance, her feeling for the music she played, and loved her warm and friendly personality as she waxed lyrical about the history of the violin and played a succession of staggeringly virtuosic pieces as if she were doing simple beginner’s exercises, all the time beaming radiantly.

This year she came onstage [to another massively warm welcome] as the Director-in-Waiting of the EIF, and as soloist to play the Bruch violin concerto, one of the four great violin concerti [the others being Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn].  It’s certainly impressive – fiendishly virtuosic, technically challenging, and brilliantly played, seemingly effortlessly – which is what I’ve come to expect from this woman who was BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004.

My dad used to listen to LPs [remember them?] – mostly violin or piano concertos and orchestral music mainly from the Romantic period: not my preferred listening [too loud, too busy, too formless] unless I’m deeply in love in which case it all suddenly makes sense…. But alas, I’m not in love just now, and though I recognised some of the melodies, I wasn’t gripped by the piece though I was fascinated to watch Nicola’s interaction with the orchestra and their conductor, Maxim Emelyanychev.

Of course she was greeted with a storm of applause at the end.  She left the stage but came back, microphone in hand, to thank us for the welcome, remember her feelings coming out to play at last year’s EIF and to express her deep gratitude for the honour that’s been bestowed on her, and promise to do her best to follow in Fergus Linehan’s footsteps.

We were then treated to an encore.  She and Maxim Emelyanychev played the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs: a simple floating melody over delicate piano arpeggios.  This was the high point of my evening – pure beauty, exquisite tone, simply the soul of music reaching straight into our hearts.

The second half of the programme was given over to Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet music.  Maxim Emelyanychev obviously feels this music deep in his soul, and was encouraging the SCO to give their utmost to it.  I was enjoying it, recognising ‘the famous bits’ and appreciating the way the music kept moving and had life in it, even in the famously slow Rose Adagio.  The melodies soared out, the tension built and eased, the complex, subtle orchestration was a delight.  It seemed we’d reached the climax and it was all over: but no, the orchestra re-tuned and off they went again, starting with a ‘here we are out hunting having a jolly time’ section, and wandering into pastures new to me, without [to me] much obvious shape or tune. 

This obviously wasn’t the view of the rest of the audience.  Applause greeted the end of various sections and was loud and prolonged at the end of the final section: either they know the music a lot better than I do or they, like me, were very glad that it was over and time to go home.

I’m obviously a philistine, or simply more at home with music from the Baroque and Classical periods.  The playing was brilliant playing, orchestra and audience had a splendid time: maybe I needed some ballet dancers on stage to make it come alive for me.

Edinburgh International Festival, Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Usher Hall, Run ended.

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