Nicola Benedetti - The Silver Violin
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Schindler’s List [3:48]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Tanzlied des Pierrots [4:20]
Carlos GARDEL (1890-1935)
Tango, Por Una Cabeza (arr. Lenehan) [3:54]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Romance from The Gadfly [3:41]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
Violin Concerto [25:32]
Nigel HESS (b. 1953)
Ladies in Lavender [3:26]
Andante (The Counterplan) [2:42]
Dario MARIANELLI (b. 1963)
My Edward & I [4:56]
Howard SHORE (b. 1946)
Eastern Promises Concertino (excerpts) 5:15]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Piano Quartet [11:45]
Five Pieces - I. Prelude [2:32]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
Marietta’s Lied [5:31]
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 11-12 April and 8 June 2012, The Guildhall, Southampton
DECCA CLASSICS 478 3529 [77:57]
Having become a fan of Nicola Benedetti’s playing through her Italia album (see review), we now enter an entirely different realm of musical experience, as she “moves dramatically from the 18th-century world of Italia to the 20th-century world of cinema.” If you can put up with the look of this release, which is designed to evoke the golden age of the silver screen and places our soloist into the role of a glam Hollywood diva in a series of more or less silly photos, there is a great deal to discover and enjoy in this superbly performed and produced album.
Benedetti has long been a champion Erich Korngold’s deeply romantic Violin Concerto, and with his reputation as a great stage and screen composer it was logical to build this programme around violin classics written specifically for the movies. There is no great shortage of recordings of Korngold’s concerto, and your choice will depend to a certain extent on the couplings which go with the work. All of Benedetti’s competitors pair the work with other violin concertos. Gil Shaham’s Deutsche Grammophon disc has the Barber concerto as well as Korngold’s score for Much Ado About Nothing, and his performance is excellent, though he does slide around the notes more than Benedetti. The single-disc recording also appears in a two disc Korngold special (see review). The Korngold Much Ado combination is also covered on the Naxos label by Philippe Quint, though the recording is not as lush and satisfactory, and Quint isn’t quite as effortlessly brilliant as either Shaham or Benedetti. None of the recordings you will find on the shelves are particularly weak and many are superlative, such as Anne-Sophie Mutter on DG and James Ehnes on the Onyx label, but they all have to stand comparison with that of the great Jascha Heifetz. His RCA recording, now superbly re-mastered by Naxos, is the one which originally inspired Nicola Benedetti, and while his is a performance which speaks to us from a different era it is nonetheless hard to equal in terms of emotional intensity and communication, let alone technique.
The Decca engineers bring us a terrifically detailed and colourful tapestry of sound for the concerto in Nicola Benedetti’s recording. Her violin is close enough and arguably a bit over the top, sounding almost amplified at times, but the presence of the orchestra and the subtle touches of orchestration mostly come through, so that the whole thing shimmers with effervescence and a remarkable range of expression and mood. For anyone prejudiced against Korngold’s unrepentant romanticism, this is the kind of performance which will sell his music to you once and for all – and in this I speak from my own personal listening history. If you love Barber’s violin concerto then Korngold’s can reach similar places, especially in the gorgeous central Romance. Benedetti’s communicative playing carries everything here, with the orchestra needing only to provide the subtlest of support. The striking Finale wakes us up from our reverie, and Benedetti’s pizzicati have terrific impact. Compliments also go to the Bournemouth winds, shining through their tricky close-scrutiny tests with grace and ease.
The rest of the programme is substantially filled with well chosen and superbly performed music from film scores and works used in films both justly famous and perhaps less well known but by no means inferior. The lament from Schindler’s List has been chosen to reflect Korngold’s Jewish background and life story, and sets the expressively heartfelt tone right from the top. Korngold’s Tanzlied des Pierrots and Mariettas Lied are from his 1920 opera Die tote Stadt, which has seen something of a revival in recent years. Chamber music contrast is amply provided with Carlos Gardel’s tango Por una cabeza known from ‘Scent of a Woman’, with accordion and improvisatory variations from the players creating an unmistakably smoky dance atmosphere.
Shostakovich is represented with famous melodies such as the Romance and Prelude from the Gadfly Suite showing he was capable of taking a Tchaikovsky pill and slapping the high-romance tunes on with a jewelled trowel. Conductor Kirill Karabits commented that the Andante from ‘The Counterplan’ is “like a Mahler Symphony in 2.5 minutes.” Nigel Hess’s big tune from Ladies in Lavender has a muted-strings aura from the orchestra which is beautifully beguiling, and Marinelli’s My Edward and I from ‘Jayne Eyre’ is a point of reflective rest. Howard Shore’s Concertino is known from ‘Eastern Promises’, casting a magical spell with its cimbalom part, which is always evocative of tantalising mystery. Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A minor is included here for its use in the film ‘Shutter Island’, performed with a suitably moody expression which works well in this context, though is perhaps not this CD’s main selling point.
In all this is a thoroughly enjoyable excursion into some terrific music. Nicola Benedetti is to be applauded for seeking beyond standard repertoire to support her marvellous Korngold Violin Concerto, though the ‘risk’ she mentions is more than covered by the commercial appeal of the product as a whole. Don’t be put off by the glitz and glam however, or by the thought of bringing so much film music into your pristine serious classical collection. This is the kind of disc we all need to have around for those softer moments, and the performances are of a standard which raises all of these scores to higher status, as if that were needed.
Excellent imaginative programme, beautifully performed and recorded.