This review was written for CultureVulture.net. To read the review there, click here, otherwise continue to read below. 

As a BBC Proms regular, Nicola Benedetti had the Royal Albert Hall’s attention all to herself when she performed to a packed auditorium on Tuesday night’s Proms 6. It was her time to shine with Shostakovich’s No. 1 Violin Concerto, which she recently recorded on disc, with works by Glazunov, that won critical acclaim. Speaking to BBC Radio 3, she talked about Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto like a dedicated student, equipped to perform the masterwork. She provided evidence of truly understanding the journey of the piece with deep reflection. ‘From the first movement, you have a stomach ache from beginning to the end. It’s just such relentless tension… And then, of course, the cadenza – the isolation is terrifying and grows to a frenzy…’

With her Stradivarius violin, she performed with veracity and a varied blend of colour and emotion. From start to finish, she uncovered the effort, grace and sensitivity required for any violinist attempting to perform the work, and it definitely didn’t seem straightforward. Shostakovich, himself, didn’t compose the concerto to entertain. Rather his aim was to educate and give a lesson, and a historical message, of the political upheaval in his own country in 1947. Stalin was determined to assert power into every aspect of life in the Soviet Union, including the arts, and for the most part, listeners sense the unsettling feelings; the sadness and internal violence Shostakovich faced, within the score’s writing. Naturally, the work was unheard of until Stalin died, a couple of years after Shostakovich had finished it.

Of course, our violinist Benedetti wasn’t alone. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) and Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård informed the Royal Albert Hall of the wonderful music of Shostakovich, as well as Sibelius, this evening. This was the second of the two concerts the BBC NOW and Danish conductor were performing together at the Proms. Accompanied by Benedetti, the BBC NOW had sufficiently done well to work in tight synchronisation for Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 2 that their performance made the work seem fresh and intriguing, still, as if we had never heard the work before. When Benedetti hit the end of the Passacaglia with her 6-minute long cadenza, which she said felt as long as a ‘lifetime’, she was a genuine marvel. Her stage performances are always worth watching out for; she closes her eyes, her long hair waves from side to side and her body clutches inwards as if she is giving way to beautiful notes telling complicated stories. Benedetti humbly exited the stage just after she performed a solo of Robert Burns’s Auld Lang Syne as ‘a little gift from Scotland.’

The BBC NOW first opened the concert with the rarely performed obligatory composition of Shostakovich’s ‘October’ written in 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Designed to be a symphonic poem, it is fascinating to know that the work was neglected and is hardly performed. Sections of the work are reminiscent of his Symphony No. 10. Whether there are secret meanings here are unknown. For the BBC Proms, this was the first time it was performed, yet the BBC NOW and Søndergård, felt slightly held back. The opening horns and fanfares could have been louder and the strings could have been more sinister, in sound, however, this was a neatly done and kept at a safe range. I just hope I can hear October again in another concert, not hidden away as it has been for the past fifty years.

The final piece, that took up the second half of the evening, was Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 and Søndergård seemed much more at home. As he had performed many of Sibelius’s symphonies, the conductor didn’t shy away from taking some liberties. When a revolution is what you hear in Shostakovich’s work, it is the sound of Finland that captures the work of Sibelius, in its entirety. Think about the mountains, the landscape, and the pastoral images of the green. Søndergård instilled his passion for the work by staying true to the score, keeping the music soft, delightful and romantic. In the same light, the music came more naturally for the BBC NOW. It was pleasing to see them perform a piece they felt much more familiar with.

The BBC Proms continues until 09 September 2017. Click here for more information about this concert and more events at the BBC Proms. https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/eh42mb

    1 Comment

  1. Elisabeth Matesky August 25, 2017 at 7:15 am Reply

    I tried leaving a comment on the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto in a minor, last evening after carefully reading the ‘review’ here on the July 30, ’17, Proms performance of Nicola Benedetti & the BBC NOW. After intense study of this unique musical Diary of Shostakovich, and having recorded a testament to Shostakovich ‘s varied and conflictual feelings – expressed so masterfully throughout his 4 movement score with the Bamberger Synphoniker/Hermann Michael, Conductor & the author of this post as violin soloist, it appears to me the reviewer is under an impression Ms. Benedetti wrote her own 6 minute Cadenza into a ‘coda’ Passacaglia ending, segueing right into the victorious 4th movement Finale??

    If others having read the write up have the same impression, my first purpose is to quell misimpression’s of who composed the Cadenza ~ namely composer, Dmitri Shostakovich! The breadth of fugal voice’s & inflections building from a whispered opening can’t be missed as the personal stamp of emotional ownership of Dmitri Shostakovich ~ None stricken by Shostakovich’s struggles during Stalin’s ‘reign’ can doubt the Cadenza authorship Shostakovich penned for the liberated solo voice of an unaccompanied violin. From my own perspective of some 3 decades later, while re-listening to the recording we made in Bamberg just 2+ weeks prior to my teacher-father’s passing (knowing he wasn’t long for this world while in the Abbey of the Bamberger Symphoniker recording), I sense the need to clarify stage theatrics of ‘hungry’ violinists rarely adding authenticity to genuinely felt inner sentiments in sync w/ with a composer’s outpouring, & in this instance, found the detailed description of Ms. Benedetti’s visual bravura to be a greatly misleading ploy displayed in lieu of genuinely true understanding of all elements which led Shostakovich, the Man, to aim grave conflicts in the direction of outer expression’s of his life condition fused w/ brutal realities of his Truth being shoved aside as a body unknown to sides of a road, never to be identified ~ Utter despair is captured through the genius of Shostakovich’s too painful composed overview/s of Stalin’s oppression of his and those of his contemporaries collective Soul’s ~

    Tossing of a bow arm up in the air seems juvenile when pitted against the severe realities Shostakovich was forced to bare & try living with or better said, tolerating whilst being courageous enough to avoid swallowing the Soviet – ‘line’ and in so doing, following the principles addressed long ago by Patrick Henry’s, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”

    Upon losing a great teacher – father within days after last touches were smooth edged on our disc for Sudwestdeutsche Rundfunk, It is quite distressing to read accounts which are dictated by visual allure rather than genuine aural attraction to rugged realities … Dmitri Shostakovich, son Maxim, & Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor dedicatee, David Oistrakh, knew these differences more than well …

    Hoping this posts as its author has lived her personal story w/vicissitudes of grave
    height for far too long, accept my Thank You’s to TrendPem early on the morning of August 25, 2017 ~ Yours musically from America ~ Elisabeth Matesky, Violinist

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