“Vladimir Jurowski began his latest season as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic with a typically bold and adventurous programme. At its core were the two Szymanowski violin concertos performed by Nicola Benedetti, and these were framed by Debussy’s Prélude à l’après–midi d‘un faune and Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin Suite. The two concertos are stylistically distinct, the First impressionistic, the Second folk-influenced, so the pairings were apt. As ever, Jurowski delivered supple, well-crafted performances, and Benedetti shone, but the highlight of the evening was the Bartók, an orchestral showpiece delivered with consummate mastery by the London Philharmonic forces.
“Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto is the more intense and demanding of the two, but Nicola Benedetti performs it regularly and has clearly got under the music’s skin. It’s technically demanding, but the greater challenge is in the interpretation. The mood and texture seem to switch constantly, with the long, lyrical lines often cut off abruptly as the music changes direction. But Benedetti is able to make all this seem logical and coherent. She applies a rich but varied vibrato to much of the music, sometimes wide and fast, but just as often narrow and slow. The result is a tone and expression as varied as that of the orchestra beneath. She also has the sheer aural presence required to command those expansive orchestral textures, and Jurowksi, while always sympathetic, never felt the need to constrain the ensemble for her.
“The Second Concerto is inspired by the folk music of the Tatra Mountains, where the composer spent his last years. The violin lines here a just as lyrical, but the structure is more straightforward and there are fewer of those unexpected changes. Again, Benedetti had the measure of the music, and this was another commanding performance. Particularly impressive was her ability to integrate the brief folk-fiddle episodes into the otherwise cosmopolitan textures – seamless integrity achieved through interpretive conviction.
“The orchestra was on top form throughout both concertos. Jurowski worked hard to raise, and maintain, the intensity of sound and texture. That was particularly true of the coda following the cadenza in the First Concerto – he seemed to be worried that the tension would slacken here, but he needn’t have worried, it was as intense as ever.
“But everyone last night rose to the challenge. A spectacular season opener, then, imaginatively programmed and delivered with precision and flair.”
Gavin Dixon, The Arts Desk, 24 September 2016
“In the Szymanowski that followed, this inspiration took full flight. Benedetti proved to be ideal partner in the First, finding all the elements of this structurally complex piece at her fingertips. Her playing was refined and accurate in the stratospheric passages, balanced by a gutsy earthiness when called for and supreme virtuosity in the cadenza. Most importantly she was clearly following the heartbeat of the concerto, which is a difficult and illusive work to bring off. Jurowski and the LPO were also completely in tune with Benedetti’s vision, with extraordinary playing which at no point overshadowed or swamped the soloist.
“Written at the end of Szymanowski’s career in 1933, the Second replaces the impressionistic, Straussian style, with something leaner and more Bartókian, while nevertheless maintaining that individual sense of ecstasy and spontaneity. In many ways it is a more coherent and accessible work than its predecessor, replacing that work’s magical logic with something more earthbound, but equally satisfying. Benedetti again found the perfect balance between refinement and strength, as well as exercising great stamina and concentration, well supported by Jurowski and the LPO. A truly brilliant piece of programming, spectacularly brought off by all concerned.”
Chris Garlick, Bachtrack, 25 September 2016
“Nicola Benedetti, refreshingly candid on matters of music and education, is also unfazed by hard graft, as demonstrated in her mastery of the Polish composer Szymanowski’s two Violin Concertos. The First was written just before the Russian Revolution (although it had to wait until 1922 for its premiere), the Second was finished in 1933.
“The First Concerto is the more rhapsodic and hedonistic, and Benedetti rose to the occasion with her signature sumptuous tone, relishing the almost ceaseless outpouring of melody. This is a work that she has made her own, and it showed in her involvement with individual players and her command of the music’s layers of sound. The Second Concerto is about the same 20-minute length, but it seems the more lived-in, its music bigger and more experienced, the changes of direction and mood more considered. Benedetti lacks nothing when it comes to perception and engagement, and she surpassed herself here, expressing the composer’s retreat into the reassuring safety of folk-music, the moments of ecstasy more integrated, and her dips into a dark, ambiguous tone anticipated the bleakness of Shostakovich. There are also passages of full-blown glamour, when it became clear that Benedetti at her most energised, unforced and elegant is perfect in this music.”
Peter Reed, Classical Source, 23 September 2016
“Hearing either of the violin concertos by Karol Szymanowski is always a treat, so getting both of them together in one concert feels like a special occasion. For its season-opening concert at the Festival Hall, the London Philharmonic put these magical works at the heart of its programme and found a soloist up to the challenge of playing both side by side. Since that soloist was Nicola Benedetti, the hall was packed – a good way of winning new admirers for the still sometimes elusive music of Poland’s greatest early 20th-century composer.
“Benedetti has made the Violin Concerto No. 1 a calling-card ever since she won the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year playing it. The work also featured on her debut album.
“Benedetti’s sweet-toned playing was poised where required, and her no-holds barred approach to the high-lying violin part was engaging….it was wonderful to hear her and Jurowski enter into the spirit of Szymanowski’s final masterpiece (1933), from its haunting opening to its unbridled celebration of Polish folk culture.”
John Allison, The Telegraph, 26 September 2016
“But then, Szymanowski’s First concerto has been Benedetti’s speciality ever since it won her the Young Musician of the Year award 12 years ago, and she keeps getting better at it. Here she played it with a veteran’s fluidity, each glassy bow stroke dissolving into the next. Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto was even more successful, not least because it is a more interesting piece: more complex in its textures, more colourful, more punchy thanks to its Polish folk influences. It certainly drew better things out of Jurowski and his orchestra, who, together with Benedetti, embraced its rustic drive.”
The Finanical Times, Hannah Nepil, 26 September 2016