December 10 2021
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Nicola Benedetti gives a truly definitive performance
Friday’s Hallé concert was a timely reminder of why live performance is so important in these uncertain times. Violinist Nicola Benedetti was back at the RCH to perform a unique concerto: one not only written for her but about her. It is an astoundingly challenging piece, stretching both soloist and orchestra to their limits. It’s also highly visual and one that reaches out and embraces the audience whose ears are treated to sounds as unpredictable as they are exciting.
However, to begin at the beginning. Something uniquely weird happened in the concert’s opening moments. Just as conductor Cristian Mācelaru was about to conduct Bernstein’s Candide overture, a ghostly pre-echo of that work filled the Hall. It would have been odd enough if someone’s phone had gone off at that moment (the RCH are sticklers for such things) and even odder that someone would have had the overture as their ringtone. Other explanations are no doubt available but it’s difficult to think of any. Anyway, once the Hallé were allowed to continue, they injected enough pizzazz into Bernstein’s fizzy score to bring smiles to all those lips hidden beneath masks. Speeds were fast, rhythms sharp and bouncy, the whole thing reminiscent of a death-defying hire-wire act.
Then came the concerto written for Nicola by the great American jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis. There’s nothing else quite like it: an amalgam of concerto, performance art, classical, jazz, folk. Whistles are blown, hands clap, feet stomp. Moments of deep reflection rub shoulders with raucous hoe-down; Latin-American rhythms happily co-exist with the Blues and with the Highland dances of Nicola Benedetti’s native Scotland. It is a heady and compelling mixture which brought a huge ovation from the audience. This work belongs to Nicola – so if ever a performance can be described as ‘definitive’, hers can.
Finally came Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Technicolor version for orchestra by Ravel. Each picture was brought thoughtfully and vividly to life: from the old castle, the unhatched chicks, the bustling marketplace right up to the grand climax: The Great Gate of Kiev. Every section of the Hallé seemed to relish the challenge, including the striker of the mighty bell. The audience loved it.
Cristian Mācelaru Conductor
Nicola Benedetti Violin