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.