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Nicola Benedetti - photo (c) Simon Fowler

Nicola Benedetti – photo (c) Simon Fowler

I reviewed Nicola Benedetti’s “Italy and the Four Seasons” tour (complete with Turnage premiere) at Symphony Hall last weekend. The Birmingham Post isn’t currently able to post reviews online, so here’s the review (below). Please do the honourable thing and pop out and buy the print edition once you’ve read it!

And for something completely different (well, OK still string-related) click here for my feature for Amati Magazine on the Royal Academy of Music.

A performance by a youth ensemble. Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, in the string sextet version. A new chamber work by Mark-Anthony Turnage. There isn’t a promoter in Birmingham who could fill Symphony Hall for any one of these things. Yet when Nicola Benedetti fronts them, a near-capacity audience rises cheering to its feet.

That’s the thing to take away from this concert by Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and an 11-player ensemble. OK, so other violinists play with a sweeter tone; and not everyone will have appreciated the glossy full-page pictures of Benedetti that filled the expensive programme. But none of that detracts from the hugely positive role Benedetti plays in British musical life, and the seriousness with which she approaches what she does.

Hence the Birmingham premiere tonight of Turnage’s Duetti d’amore, a Ravel-inspired duo for Benedetti and Elschenbroich that veered from tender, skittish humour to full-throated passion. This was Turnage at his most lyrical, and the pair projected even its smallest gestures to the very back of the vast space. Souvenir de Florence for some reason, came across less vividly, despite a smiling performance and some breakneck speeds.

As for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, what lingered were some gutsy, red-blooded tuttis and the chamber-music delicacy of Benedetti’s solo exchanges with her colleagues. Baroque bows and a lack of vibrato acknowledged period practice, while dramatic tempo-shifts within each movement made clear that Benedetti has her own very definite interpretative ideas.

And it was her idea to bring on a team of young string players from the National Children’s Orchestra – who performed the outer movements of Vivaldi’s concerto RV.310 as joyously and as musically as any professional band we’ve heard (and with a richer sound than some). A special moment in a feelgood evening; let’s hope that Benedetti’s clearly-sizeable fanbase will continue to support music-making like this after she’s left town.