Violin: Nicola Benedetti
Composer: Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák
Conductor: Iván Fischer
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
As 2017 marks the pivotal 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, it seems more than fitting that Nicola Benedetti, a home-grown talent from West Kilbride in Scotland, should be performing on the Usher Hall stage alongside the Budapest Festival Orchestra. For the International Festival, this is a key staple in their programme, scheduled at the start of the festival and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Indeed, the fact that Benedetti does not participate in either the Schubert or the Dvořák (i.e. less than half of the evening’s performance) does not deter the crowds; from the stalls to the Gods, the Usher Hall is packed to the rafters, the audience waiting with baited breath and poised for her entrance. As soon as she walks on stage she has a captivating stage presence and receives resounding applause before she has even played a single note. Naturally, it’s completely justified and no review can summarise the sheer musical talent of Benedetti that has been evident ever since she won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004.
Fully absorbed in the music, Benedetti avoids the pitfalls of many prima donnas by not overshadowing the orchestra; instead the lead violin and the orchestra are partners in this performance of one of Brahms’ most successful compositions for solo violin. Indeed, Benedetti’s solo section seems to have the audience and the orchestra spellbound. In spite of the evident challenge presented by the music, such as the incredible musical range that soars into the highest notes, and playing multiple notes on multiple strings, Benedetti plays Brahms effortlessly yet with true feeling and an intimate understanding and appreciation of the music. The Stradivarius sings with a pure, clear voice and it’s a delight to hear such a famous instrument played by someone so musically accomplished.
The Brahms is a particularly enjoyable instalment, with a beautiful solo from the oboe and the Hungarian, gypsy-like final movement is full of spirit and energy and executed with panache and precision by the orchestra.
However, perhaps more than the Brahms or the Schubert, the orchestra clearly relish playing Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major, a work which allows both the cellos as well as the brass a great deal more limelight than the Brahms or Schubert. Likewise, for the six double bass players there is a great deal more scope to seriously contribute artistically to the music and the flautists must be commended for their beautiful pure sound and control.
Throughout the evening, Iván Fischer’s conducting of the orchestra, (he formed the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983), is both highly intelligent yet incredibly sensitive, and he successfully harnesses the musical energy of the orchestra to produce a sound that is as dynamic as it is expressive. Indeed the orchestra achieve real drama through their sensitive interpretation of the musical dynamics and one feels secure in the knowledge that under Iván Fischer, the company is not only a well-oiled machine but one which acknowledges human emotion. Moreover, the setting of the Usher Hall, famous as it is for live music, ensures that the acoustics and sound quality is second to none.
Other highlights from the evening include an improvised blues encore from Benedetti herself. Strumming and plucking the moody blues scale from the Stradivarius is a fun and welcome surprise the audience does not expect, just as they don’t expect the final encores, more Brahms and even some choral singing from the female members of the orchestra.
All in all, this is a solid and seminal start to the Edinburgh International Festival’s musical programme in this special 70th year.
Reviewed on 10 August 2017