Nicola Benedetti Plays Mendelssohn, MacMillan, and Mozart (CD review)

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, etc. Nicola Benedetti, violin; James MacMillan, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. DG B0007682-02.

It's hard to say which is lovelier: The music, the performance of the music, or the performer of the music. It doesn't hurt Nicola Benedetti's chances for success that she is both talented and attractive. Indeed, the combination seems to be a prerequisite for any female violinist these days.

That said, I have to admit I was not entirely won over by everything on the disc. The album's focus is the opening work, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, which lacks an essential brilliance and bubbly effulgence in its opening and closing movements, despite Ms. Benedetti taking them at a healthy clip. This may be due in part, however, to DG's rather prosaic sound, which tends to undermine any radiance the performer tries to produce. The sound is not bad, mind you, just mediocre; it hasn't a lot of body or bass or dimension or transparency. Because the sound is merely competent, not great, the performance is not quite a contender since it takes something more than mere competence to compete nowadays in a crowded field. Anyhow, Benedetti and DG do much better with the Concerto's middle movement, where DG's sonics make a more comfortable fit with the lyrical, relaxed, Romantic atmosphere of the Andante than they do with the opening Allegro and closing Allegretto.

Ms. Benedetti also shines in the accompanying shorter pieces: Mozart's Adagio for Violin and Orchestra and Rondo for Violin and Orchestra, and Schubert's Serenade (D957) and Ave Maria (D839), which are quite easygoing and moving. Things conclude with new commissions from conductor-composer James MacMillan, several brief excerpts from Ayshire, an area of Scotland where MacMillan was born and raised and which is not far from Benedetti's family home. The first Ayshire piece is a slightly melancholy evocation of the Scottish landscape, followed by a more raucous bit that doesn't quite comport with the other segment. Still, Ms. Benedetti seems fond enough of both pieces to present them affectionately enough.


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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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