The violin was Edward Elgar’s instrument, and when he was composing he thought as a string player: you can hear the idiomatic shaping of lines, the relishing of sonorities, in everything he wrote. Nicola Benedetti’s new recording – out today as a download, with the CD release planned for July – brings together his huge, sumptuous 1910 Violin Concerto with three miniatures for violin and piano that nevertheless say a lot in a few minutes.
Benedetti’s vibrant, beefy full-throttle tone is made for the concerto, and she’s an assertive soloist, never disappearing into the glowing textures the London Philharmonic weaves around her. Vladimir Jurowski conducts with a clear eye on the work’s huge dimensions, and Benedetti, too, shapes the violin’s restless music into long, sinewy paragraphs. Her interpretation may lack the introspective quality of the revelatory recording Nigel Kennedy made back in the mid 1980s, and you occasionally wish Jurowski would risk letting the orchestra run away from him, but the end result is a performance with a sure sense of direction and lots of heart.
The pieces with piano – Salut d’Amour, Sospiri and Chanson de Nuit – are almost the flipside to this. Benedetti and pianist Petr Limonov are quiet and pensive, her violin silky-toned, the sound scaled back but just as electric. Sospiri is beautifully done, Benedetti’s tone silky and contained yet electric; it’s an initially bleak picture of despair that lifts just slightly into something hopeful at the end. Salut d’Amour sounds fresh, and is played with an understated sigh that draws the ear in. Unsurprisingly from such a tireless campaigner and educator, that’s not quite all: Benedetti has filmed five video lessons on Salut d’Amour for her YouTube channel, inspiring lockdown practice material for violin or viola students of any age.
This week’s other pick
Another Beethoven recording that urgently demands shelf (or disc) space. Stephen Hough’s long-awaited recording of the complete five piano concertos is a partnership with conductor Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the sparks struck between their crisp responsiveness and Hough’s immaculate blend of imagination and control are considerable. Magisterial one moment, wry the next, Hough is a whole orchestra in himself, and not a note is wasted. He is donating his royalties from this to the charity Help Musicians, so every purchase potentially improves someone else’s day as well as yours.