Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Sheer Delight

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Gluck, Vivaldi, Rameau: Nicola Benedetti (Violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Christian Curnyn (Harpsichord/Director), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 26.4.2012 (SRT)

Gluck: Overture and Balletmusik from Orfeo ed Euridice
Rameau: Suite from Les Paladins
Vivaldi: Concerto in D “Il Grosso Mogul” RV208
The Four Seasons

Under some circumstances a wall-to-wall Baroque programme can be a difficult sell, but not when you have Nicola Benedetti on the bill. She confirmed her status as (probably) Scotland’s most successful current classical export with a packed Usher Hall and a set of performances which make it clear what all the fuss is about. Benedetti has a good publicity machine behind her, but this would count for nothing were it not for the Grade A musicianship she shows at every turn. She is responsive to every demand that the music puts on her, eschewing showiness for genuine communication. The sharpness of her attack was thrilling for Vivaldi’s Summer storms or the stamping of Winter, but every bit as lovely was the warmth of tone for, say, the slow movement of Winter or the celebratory joy of Autumn. Her technique is extraordinary to witness, too, tossing off runs, trills and double-stops as if it were all in an evening’s work, and the quality of her top notes is bewitching, imbuing the violin with a singing quality that few others can. She also had tremendous fun with Il Grosso Mogul, be it in the rapid-fire chirping sections of the outer movements or the impassioned Canzone of the slow movement. Three cheers, by the way, for the continuo team of David Watkin on cello and Thomas Dunford on theorbo, who always kept things interesting, never merely accompanying.

This was never a one-woman show, however, and the performances of the others on stage were just as remarkable. Christian Curnyn, who recently recorded a CD of similar repertoire with Benedetti and the SCO, confirmed himself as a remarkably successful period practitioner, responding to each nuance with flair and grace. He drew a clipped, precise sound from the orchestra and his approach to the grace notes in the Gluck lent each phrase an individual air. Both the martial and contemplative aspects of Orfeo sounded vigorous and alive in his hands and you never lost the sense that we were listening to ballet music.

For me, however, the most fulfilling sounds of the evening came not from the full-blooded Italian fare but from the grace and delicacy of the French Baroque in Rameau’s Paladins suite. The orchestra themselves had a much broader palette of colours to draw upon, especially some splendidly perky woodwinds and brass, and though there may be less Mediterranean drama there was plenty of colour and wit that showed off the orchestra’s range much better than the Italian numbers. Curnyn massaged the sound with elegance and flair, confirming an excellent evening from a whole team of excellent musicians.

Incidentally, this programme was repeated in Glasgow and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. It can be heard again here until Friday 4th May.

Simon Thompson