Proms Chamber 5:Super Concert: Shame About the Gushing Presenter

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Proms Chamber Music 5: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Alexei Grynyuk (piano). Cadogan Hall, London, 13.8.2012. (JPr)

Bach: Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin – Chaconne
KorngoldDie tote StadtMarietta’s Song & Pierrot’s Dance Song
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor

A very distinguished lunchtime chamber music concert, which was somewhat spoilt by a gushing presenter still in full BBC Radio 5 Live Olympics flow. So following the ‘touchy-feely’ debate about the TV interviews we apparently needed an onstage interview with Nicola Benedetti as soon as she had finished her Bach Partita that was described by Clemency Burton-Hill – now turned critic – as a ‘monumental  performance’. Despite allowing Ms Benedetti (or ‘Nicky’ as she was referred to once) to plug her forthcoming new CD The Silver Violin it was too reminiscent of those recent trackside images of athletes – who have just given all they can – being asked ‘How do you feel about coming fourth in the Olympics?’

The very talented Scottish violinist was reminded – as if she didn’t know – that the Bach work was a ‘real feat of athleticism’ and how it must be ‘quite terrifying to be up there on stage on your own’ and how she is ‘a wonderful role model for young children around the country in terms of being very dedicated and practicing hard.’ The Team GB Olympics success might ‘Inspire a Generation’ for a few weeks but the almost total avoidance of any genuine classical music at the opening and closing ceremonies – to provide room for wall-to-wall Brit pop – has done nothing for the future of concerts such as this. The BBC Proms urgently needs a younger generation to be inspired as – although perhaps not quite in my lifetime but certainly within a generation – the audience for its concerts will be on the verge of extinction. Although Ms Benedetti and Ms Burton-Hill may be in their mid-twenties, once again the audience they were addressing in the Cadogan Hall (and probably through their radios) are probably well into the second-half of their lives.

Benedetti’s sound technique gave Bach’s demanding Chaconne (only the final movement of a five-part work) an overall relaxed strength and she certainly started it with some real drama and intensity. At times there was a real sense of her Stradivarius almost dueting with itself and throughout there was a firm but unimposing rhythmic strength. I was a little surprised at a lack of warmth in her sound but I believe this might have been an attempt to mimic the baroque style a performance of Bach’s music might need. Certainly with a change of bow – and together with the understated accompaniment of Alexei Grynyuk at the piano – Benedetti brought a wonderful Viennese Kaffeehaus schmaltz to two short Korngold pieces based on his youthful opera Die tote Stadt; these are on her new CD.

The final – and most substantial – work was Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 3, the last of three chamber pieces he composed in Switzerland in 1886 and published in 1887 (this is for anyone who believed the ‘1880-2’ in the simple printed programme). Brahms was entering the last decade of his life and there is a sense of resignation and sadness to the music. Benedetti was joined once again by Grynyuk (more involved and animated than in the Korngold) and also by Leonard Elschenbroich’s sonorous cello. This trio of friends have great experience of playing together and this was clear from their performance of this trio that reveals all that is wonderful in the composer’s late style.

Benedetti and her colleagues do intensity very well: this was clear from the first movement when it never waned and it contrasted well with the essentially lyrical second theme that even then retained a sense of disquiet that pervades all the music. The middle movements were suitably muted; serene and melancholic whilst the major key finale is typically brighter but I still got the impression that at this time of his life Brahms’s cup was definitely ‘half-empty’ rather than ‘half-full’! An elegiac account of the languorous slow movement from Schumann’s Third Piano Trio, virtually a duet for violin and cello, was a fitting encore for this fine – even if not ‘monumental’ – lunchtime Proms concert.

BBC Radio 3 will repeat this concert on 18 August and it is well worth hearing.

Jim Pritchard

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