REVIEW: Nicola Benedetti ‘simply brilliant’

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THE town of Chipping Campden was last week treated to a musical extravaganza of breathtaking brilliance — two concerts within two days with Nicola Benedetti, one of the most sought-after virtuoso violinists in the world, as the star attraction on both occasions.

Ms Benedetti, who combines elegance, humour and irrepressible verve in her dazzling artistry, was the soloist in two of the most famous Romantic concertos in the whole repertoire at St James’ Church last Thursday and Saturday evenings.

On Thursday she gave a memorable performance of the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 77 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and on Saturday an equally spellbinding account of the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 35 by Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

But despite her undoubted gifts — and they are legion — Ms Benedetti would be the first to agree that accolades should also be showered on The Festival Youth Academy Orchestra, and its conductor Thomas Hull, for the superb accompaniment they gave her in both of these huge works. (The orchestra was also allowed to display its own virtuosity in the second half of each concert with a performance on Thursday of the Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 56 ‘Scottish’ by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and on Saturday of the Symphony No 3 in E flat, Op 55 ‘Eroica’ by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).)

The two concerts marked the culmination of a training week for the orchestra in which trainee members from the ‘academy’ at the town’s annual music festival in May became mentors to the next generation of young players. As a result, each desk in the youth orchestra consisted of a festival ‘academy’ member and a school-aged student.

Ms Benedetti is renowned for her work with young people and her infectious enthusiasm was a crucial feature of her two concerts last week. Not only is she a magician with her instrument (a Stradivarius from 1717) but she communicates this magic to her fellow musicians and to the audience in front of her. It is not an overstatement to say that she is genuinely mesmerising.

What is also striking is the rich and sonorous quality of her tone and the effortless panache with which she engages, both with the music and with those who are listening to it.

After her performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto on Saturday Ms Benedetti made a brief speech in which she spoke of her enjoyable time in Chipping Campden and praised conductor Thomas Hull, orchestra leader Ruth Rogers, and the organiser of the town’s hugely prestigious classical music programmes, Charlie Bennett.

She said: “I’ve had the most wonderful few days here. It’s difficult to create just the right environment to make music. Somehow the combination of the younger students and the older post-graduates, with the involvement of Tom, Ruth and Charlie, and all the tutors, has created an unusually positive, focused and really uplifting environment. I felt I could step into this amazing working organism and just make music with them.”

This was praise indeed from a performer of Ms Benedetti’s stature and a compliment to Charlie Bennett’s enterprise in bringing to Chipping Campden some of the greatest musicians in the world for the annual festival and other events. Long may it continue…