BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, Nicola Benedetti and Friends

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Shostakovich, Mahler: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Maxim Rysanov (viola), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello) and Alexei Grynyuk (piano). LSO St Luke’s, London, 15.3.2012. (JPr)

Shostakovich (arr. Lev Atovmyan) Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano
Mahler Piano Quartet movement in A minor
Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor Op 57

It was 2004 when Nicola Benedetti was voted BBC Young Musician of the Year, and has been prominent on the concert platform ever since. Now at the advanced age of 24(!) her experience so far nearly qualifies her for veteran status. Though there is still some doubt, apparently, about her technique it is clear she is being well advised and will not be not be doing a Vanessa Mae and disappearing from the spotlight any time soon. Indeed news broke recently that a wealthy financial guru (is there any other kind?), Bank of America’s Jonathan Moulds, has given her an upgrade on her previous instrument and loaned her a £6.3 million Stradivarius if she will serenade him and his friends from time to time. Believed to be one of the top 30 violins in the world no one would turn down such an opportunity. Good luck to her I say!

Developing her own ways to keep herself in the spotlight, this was the third in a series of four concerts Nicola Benedetti has curated and featured in recently whilst in residency at LSO St Luke’s and broadcast later on BBC Radio 3; she features with four colleagues in a varied selection of solo and chamber works. Involving as it was ‘her friends and musical allies’: violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, viola player Maxim Rysanov, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, as virtuosi in their own right they made, in various combinations, an all-star chamber trio, quartet or quintet. Their professional and personal association has melded them into a fine ensemble. It was to their credit – and their burgeoning reputation – that St Luke’s was impressively full for this lunchtime concert of Shostakovich and Mahler on a sunny, cloudless, spring day that could be seen through the windows of this impressively renovated church.

Lev Atomyan’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano combines a few choice excerpts from two of the composer’s films and a ballet. There are some wonderful lilting melodies mixed with a joie de vivre and some irrepressible good humour. Even with her new Strad it was clear that Benedetti was happy to play ‘second fiddle’ to Alexander Sitkovetsky. There are only brief moments of dialogue and there was some especially playful harmony throughout the work that was solidly underpinned by Alexei Grynyuk at the piano. Mahler’s 1876(?) single movement Piano Quartet in A minor written while he was still a student at the Vienna Conservatory owes a debt to those composers he most admired at the time – Brahms, Schubert and Schumann. In fact it is an unfinished work as there are sketches for a Scherzo, but Mahler completed only the 11 or so minutes we have been left. It was given a passionate and richly detailed performance that seemed to gain some Tchaikovskian accents which made it sound less like early Mahler than it has to me before.

Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor (1940) was given a masterful account that was chamber music playing of the highest order. Grynyuk’s forthright approach to the Prelude set the tone as he unleashed the opening theme and it was complemented by Leonard Elschenbroich’s expressive cello; their colleagues gave them solid support. Throughout the Quintet it was clear that even though they are all soloists in their own right they were really listening closely to one another. Benedetti and Sitkovetsky reunited poignantly for the elegiac Intermezzo, backed up once again by Grynyuk’s walking bass. The enchanting Finale was jauntily and wittily rendered but – to me – a sense of disillusion seems to set in with Shostakovich’s rather low-key ending, perhaps mirroring the composer’s mood at this time of his life.

BBC Radio 3 will broadcast this concert on 4 April and it is well worth hearing.

Jim Pritchard