This is the kind of release on which the clothes worn by the
soloist for the photo shoot get equal billing to the technical
staff for the recording, but this is one case where we shouldn’t
let fashionable marketing put us off: this is a stunning disc
in all respects.
Nicola Benedetti already has a track record of fine recordings,
including her Fantasie album (see review)
and an excellent Szymanowski Violin Concerto (see review).
Here she breaks away from romantic repertoire to explore Italian
Baroque repertoire which ‘she had never expected to feel
quite so at home in’. After a certain amount of stylistic
experiment she seems to have hit on an approach which sounds
natural, vibrant, and reasonably authentic - whatever one takes
that to mean. She is in fact playing on metal strings but with
a Baroque bow borrowed from Rachel Podger, and using vibrato
as a vehicle for expression rather than standard tone production.
The arias are a mild exception in this regard, in which she
goes closer to imitating a singing voice but still with admirable
restraint. This to my ears is a convincing, indeed a winning
combination of technical thought and intuitive response to some
very fine music.
Benedetti’s superb solos aside, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
is also something of a model in these pieces, proving to sound
entirely at home with this Italian Baroque repertoire. The recording
is superbly balanced, with the harpsichord blending nicely with
the strings as it should, the soloist forward but not excessively
close or voluminous. The programme is a marvellous mixture of
meaty concertos, more intimate sonatas, and arrangements of
some vocal works which sound excellent in this setting. One
of the highlights is Vedrò con molto diletto from
Vivaldi’s Il Giustino, which is one of those pieces
with juicily dramatic harmonies over which the ‘voice’
draws beautifully expressive lines. Nulla in mundo pax sincera
is from a motet, and while more gentle is no less moving.
Of the concertos there are of course a few highlights. I particularly
like the energetic theorbo strumming in the third movement Allegro
of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D major RV 208, the “Grosso
Mogul”. Tartini’s Devil’s Trill sonata
is a familiar work, but given a superb performance here, Benedetti
seeking the emotional heart of the piece as much as the virtuoso
display, which she renders with ease and enjoyably breezy wit.
Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor is from La Cetra,
combining trademark technical fireworks with those moments of
sparse clarity which zap straight into the emotions through
their apparent simplicity. Sandwiched between this and Tartini’s
remarkably exploratory late Concerto in A minor D115
is an all too brief sonata movement from Francesco Veracini,
some of whose legendary life events are briefly outlined in
the booklet. The Tartini concert deserves mention for its central
Andante cantabile movement, which is made to sound a
little like a performance from a glass harmonica through the
rise and fall of pure string tones. The final piece is “Summer”
from The Four Seasons, played both sensitively and impressively
by all concerned.
This is the kind of CD which is sheer joy from beginning to
end, and one you will want to put on again and again, and again.
It doesn’t pose difficult questions or set itself up to
be the product of any particular kind of historical or intellectual
approach to the repertoire. The impression is just that of a
bunch of expert musicians getting the very best out of what
they are performing, recorded in an ideal environment by a crack
production team. Not only for these reasons is this like a breath
of fresh Mediterranean air coming through your loudspeakers.
With Nicola Benedetti’s remarkably fine playing one always
has the impression that the rest of the musicians are at the
peak of their abilities, raising their game and playing their
socks off to make this a very fine disc indeed.