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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (1915-16) [26'59].
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise in E, Op. 83 (1887) [10'18].
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Poème, Op. 25 (1897) [16'47].
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Thaïs (1894) - Méditation [5'37].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Lieder, Op. 105 (publ. 1889) No. 1, Wie Melodien zieht es mir (arr. Heifetz as 'Contemplation'; orch. Reynolds) [3'20].
John TAVENER (b. 1944)

Fragment for the Virgin (2004) [4'30].
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding.
Rec. Walthamstow Town Hall (no date given). DDD
Includes 'performance track' of the Massenet and details of available Official Nicola Benedetti Truetones and Ringtones.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 987 057-7 [73'08]

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Quite a debut this. A mixed one in one sense, a sense perhaps hinted at by a glance at the programme. The excellent choice of the Szymanowski juxtaposed with much more popular fare sits slightly uneasily, even given Benedetti's evident excellence. And the use of a 'Music Minus One' track (i.e. the Massenet Meditation in purely orchestral guise, with the solo line omitted) seems just strange. One can download the music, but this is 5'37 not for listeners, nor for any instrumentalists apart from violinists; still, I could always whistle it, I suppose.

It is the Szymanowski that distinguishes the disc. Benedetti plays supremely well, exhibiting a maturity far in advance of her years. Harding expertly sets the aural scene with its shifting, glittering colours and active woodwind, against which her long, high melody sings. Her sound is not overly sweet, giving backbone to her expression, and she resolutely refuses to over-sugar this music; which is plenty sultry and perfumed as it is. Harding makes the orchestra play with a luxurious flow.

The second movement begins nocturnally before flickering Scherzo activity. Benedetti, for the record, seems to have no technical problems at all.

The finale shows how Benedetti can hold a silence ... within her superb cadenza. Here the orchestra enjoys itself, but listen especially to Benedetti's gorgeous high, pure line at 4'12. She really understands this music; no small achievement for someone her age. The catalogue is not exactly crowded with 'great' Szymanowski firsts. I would pick Benedetti against all comers as it currently stands, especially given the high standard of the recording and accompanying. The London Symphony Orchestra clearly relishes this Polish journey!

The Saint-Saëns that follows has a lovely slinky orchestra, with Benedetti caressing the line most affectingly. Her touch is light and one can really savour the crystal-clear recording. The work is played romantically, but not overly so, as is correct. The rapid scalic work is smooth but never mechanical. A word of warning, though. Do not run straight on from the Szymanowski, despite my colleague Rob Barnett's statement that the Szymanowski 'can trace its blood-line back to Saint-Saens' Havanaise' . This may be true, but one should savour the moment after the Szymanowski closes. To run straight on does Saint-Saëns no favours at all.

The Chausson Poème has a lovely abandoned quality to it in Benedetti's hands. Her youth means she can meet the demands of the score with an impeccable technique that she can use to express herself fully and she does so.

Massenet's Méditation is extremely well-known. Here it flows magnificently without the slightest touch of syrup about it. Benedetti's musicality is beyond doubt, but as if to confirm its status she then gives us the magnificent Brahms song, 'Wie Melodien zieht es mir', shading the line superbly and just to prove it is not all her show, there is a gorgeous clarinet solo at the end.

Finally, a work written expressly for her Tavener's Fragment for the Virgin - the actual final track of the disc is actually the solo-less Massenet. I assume Tavener's Virgin is the Virgin Mary, given Tavener's previous output. I have to confess finding this rather simplistic, meandering pseudo-mysticism frankly irritating but I am sure it has many admirers.

Do hear this for the truly excellent Szymanowski, then have a cuppa and come back to enjoy the rest of the disc for what it is an easy-on-the-ear set of well-crafted delights. Apart from the Tavener, of course.

And before you ask, no, I haven't tried the Benedetti ring-tones.

Colin Clarke


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