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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa