United Kingdom Mendelssohn, Mozart: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (director). City Halls, Glasgow, 13.3.2020. (GT)
Mendelssohn – Sinfonia No.10 in B minor; Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64
Mozart – Overture, La clemenza di Tito K621; Sinfonia Concertante, K 364
Following the recent superb concert of two Beethoven symphonies under Maxim Emelyanychev (review click here), we returned to a frequent arrangement for this virtuoso ensemble with Benjamin Marquise Gilmour leading from the orchestra. Of course, anyone familiar with the gifts of these musicians will be aware that in many repertoire pieces, they can make do without a conductor.
With Gilmour leading by deft waves of his bow, the genial, colourful string playing of Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia (written by a fourteen-year-old) was delightful on the ear, and the sudden change in the Allegro was both dramatic and full of invention, with beautiful harmonies emerging from the strings, and an upsurge in dramatic tension and humorous playing in the finale (più presto). This was a marvellous opening piece and set up the remainder of the concert well.
In the Violin Concerto – with Gilmour leading from his desk – there was momentarily a lack of cohesion in the Allegro molto appassionato, but this was quickly resolved, with the strings playing wonderfully and some beautiful intonation from the Fiona Fulton’s flute. Nicola Benedetti herself was on top form, and there was notably some excellent play from Maximiliano Martin on the clarinet. In playing the originally written cadenza through rhythmic shifts from quavers, quaver-triplets to semi-quavers, the Scottish virtuoso was spectacular in her musicality, playing here as well as I can remember. Alexandru Cozma on the bassoon was splendid in leading into the Andante opening up the lyricism with an A minor idea from ‘A Song without Words’ played by the whole orchestra before being picked up by the soloist. The tremolos in the accompaniment showed Benedetti at her finest dexterity before the tranquil close. In the finale, the orchestra played admirably with a striking fanfare from trumpets, and in the brief cadenza before the close, the woodwind reprised the main idea, against trills from the soloist, before the exuberant culmination. There were moments when – without a conductor – the balance between soloist and orchestra meant that Benedetti was almost drowned out, but it was a performance that was exciting and almost magical at times.
In the Mozart La clemenza di Tito overture – under Gilmore’s direction – the colourful symphonic opening was grand and colourful, and the degree of playing at such a brisk pace was remarkable, with the flute and oboe both excellent, and the bassoon and clarinet matching their supreme musicality.
In the Sinfonia Concertante, we were fortunate to witness some remarkable music-making; directly from the opening bars of the Allegro maestoso, Benedetti’s violin and Lawrence Power’s viola matched each other in virtuosity, and it was evident that they enjoy playing together. There was extraordinarily beautiful playing, and this was another supreme performance from this wonderful violinist from Ayrshire; she is quite sublime in Mozart. The highlight of the piece was the Andante where the two musicians seemed to exchange laments with consoling empathy in an evocation of the composer’s sadness at the passing of his mother. In the Presto finale, tragedy was quickly forgotten by a brisk rondo in which we heard some amazing playing – the two soloists seemed in complete harmony with the music – and the reprise of the first theme was superb.
In response to the enthusiastic audience, Benedetti and Power played an encore of Sir Peter Maxwell Davis’s ‘Farewell to Stromness’ in Sally Beamish’s arrangement. Composed in 1980 as a protest against uranium mining, this seemed a poignant farewell to the current season.