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SEEN AND HEARD  UK CONCERT REVIEW
 

Alwyn, Bruch, Rubbra, Mendelssohn: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Worthing Symphony Orchestra, John Gibbons, Assembly Hall, Worthing, 8.3.2009 (RA)

William Alwyn: Suite of Scottish Dances (1946)
Max Bruch: Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor, op.35
Edmund Rubbra: A Tribute (Introduction and Danza alla Fuga), op.56 (1942)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No 3 in A minor, Scottish, op 56


A tTriumphant Worthing Symphony Orchestra concert sent many new fans out of the Assembly Hall vowing to return after Nicola Benedetti played Bruch’s cherished concerto with, she told the band, “The best orchestra I have played this work with”.

Like the latest WSO converts, the 21-year-old former BBC Young Musician of the Year could be back, for she is considering conductor John Gibbons's proposal to play Brahms's Double Concerto next season. "It was a lovely audience here," she said afterwards, "and the acoustic is so great."

Originally intending to play the Beethoven, she switched to the Bruch No 1 too late to change the posters (though not the preview publicity). Because of this, there were a few dissatisfied customers among the 800 present. But only the churlish would have been disappointed to arrive and find this exciting artiste playing a concerto they hadn't expected to hear. Here was a Scottish lass in a programme of nearly all "Scottish" music, and with her Italian ancestry combined with the Celtic, hair flying, she tore into her first lengthy theme.

The orchestra sounded magnificent and on fire from the first tutti onwards — a situation that continued to the end of the concert when, after Edmund Rubbra's attractive Tribute, to Ralph Vaughan Williams, came Mendelssohn's excellent Scottish Symphony. And let’s not forget that conductor John Gibbons gave the orchestra William Alwyn's entertaining Suite of Scottish Dances as a warm-up. How could anything so titled not be fun to play?

Benedetti's spontaneity is genuine and her dynamic range is wide. After her fiercely attacked cadenza and Gibbons's finely judged decrescendo into the slow movement, with a time-stilling anticipatory final held note, she entered at a breathtaking hush. After the passion of this beautiful movement, her final restatement of the theme was immensely tender, then expansive before subsiding again into the preparation for the finale. The glorious four horns' climax of that Adagio will remain in the ears of many listeners, and the Scottish flavour of the Bruch finale was laid bare by the native of Ayr, who charmed all by taking her ovations, cheers and whistles while holding up her long skirt with one hand, her 1712 Earl Spencer Stradivarius in the other.

Deputy leader Rita French told me she felt Benedetti showed star quality in moving from morning rehearsal to high-octane afternoon performance and demonstrating her ability to create and interpret "in the moment" with real musicality, while remaining easy to follow for her accompanying orchestra. Benedetti told me afterwards how her Japanese-devised classical technique, learned from the only classical teacher for miles around her part of Ayrshire, meant she would have to play her nation's reels and jigs differently to an itinerant Scottish fiddler. Having had music in front of her for the performance, she explained: "I was playing the Bruch for the first time in a year and there were a couple of places I just needed to have it there in case. But I only have a problem with my memory playing the sonata repertoire. All the great concertos just flow."

Apologising for the programme change, Gibbons said he had never done it before in his 10 years here but sometimes adaptability was necessary when engaging international soloists.

The Rubbra work sounded unfaded by time and pleased the probable 99 per cent of the audience who had never heard it before. The Mendelssohn was a showcase for another of many recent occasions when the WSO has shown its finest colours. The whole orchestra covered itself in glory.

Famed music film maker Tony Palmer sold his latest DVD, O Thou Transcendent, about Vaughan Williams (the subject of Rubbra's Tribute) and donated the profits to Worthing Symphony Society. The final WSO concert this season, "Effervescence" is on April 5, with Ian Fountain playing Brahms' second piano concerto and the WSO giving Smetana's Bartered Bride overture and Dvorak's Symphony No 8.

Richard Amey


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