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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [24:31].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Adagio in E, K261 (1776) [4:43]. Rondo in C, K373 (1781) [5:26].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Serenade (Leise flehen meine Lieder, D957, arr. Stephens) [4:07]. Ave Maria, D839 (arr. Wilhelmj/Heifetz) [5:01].
James MacMILLAN (b. 1959)

From Ayrshirea [7:09]
Nicola Benedetti (violin).
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/aJames MacMillan
rec. Abbey Rd Studios, 26-27 January 2006.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 315-9 [56:36]
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The publicity machine keeps on turning for Nicola Benedetti. Eight photos in the booklet and one on the back cover, all projecting a glamorous persona - versus one tiny pic of MacMillan. All speak of Benedetti as Deutsche Grammophon’s great violinistic hope of the younger generation.

Taking on the much-recorded Mendelssohn is in one sense brave. But this is music that suits youth perfectly, so perhaps it is not so brave after all. Certainly there is an impetuosity here that works well enough, but at no point does this actually sound like great music. One can admire the sweet-toned beginning and, indeed, Benedetti’s credo to leave the music alone, but in the final analysis there should be more to it than this. Her cadenza sums it up – very good, very clean, very unmemorable.

It is true there is some passion to the Andante and that the finale flits between the scampering and the suave. There is even drama near the end. But taken as a whole this is merely acceptable. There are so many recordings to choose from – Heifetz, Milstein, Campoli to name the first three that spring to mind – that the rest of the CD had better offer something good.

The two Mozart offerings form a convincing Adagio-Rondo pairing. The Adagio emerges as some sort of Mozartian cooling breeze after the hectic finale of the Mendelssohn, although Benedetti’s legato is not perfect, and neither is her purity of tone of the angelic variety. The charming Rondo that follows on nicely is better.

The Schubert Serenade seems to have been recorded on the bass-heavy side at the beginning. Benedetti sounds almost like she is spinning a gypsy tune – it is a pity the orchestral reply is aural confectionery. But that is nothing on the Ave Maria. Working with a throaty tone to begin with, this turns into pure syrup. Purists will give up at this point, aghast. I have to admit I heard it through because I had to.

James MacMillan is one of the UK’s most interesting composers. From Ayrshire is very, very beautiful as well as highly evocative. There are some typical MacMillan ‘keening’ figures on the solo violin in the part; the second part is a reel, brought off with panache by all concerned.

Only the MacMillan seems to justify this release. There is no doubting Benedetti’s talent – if only she had been left to develop more before being given all this exposure.

Colin Clarke


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