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CD Feature/ Nicola Benedetti: "Vaughn Williams & Sir John Taverner"

img  Tobias

With her third and most recent CD, Nicola Benedetti shows herself a different kind of classical artist by demonstrating an atypical empathy for a political tool held in suspiciously low esteem by many of her colleagues: Powersharing. While other violinists claim center stage in every aspect of their trade, one can argue who the real star of this album is: Nicola Benedetti or Sir John Taverner.

If one leaves out the quarter of an hour poetry of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”, after all, Taverner’s music is pervasive here: On two short-form pieces as well as a new orchestral work, the entire breadth of his skills are displayed, marking him as one of the few composers who have managed to turn more popular in the public’s perception, while becoming more adventurous in his music. If one considers that Benedeitti’s rendition of “Lalishri” and “Dhyana” constitute world premiere recordings, the impression of this being a collaboration rather than a solo effort solidifies even further.

One shouldn’t forget that Taverner has doted on Nicola Benedetti’s “otherworldly passion” before and not objected to the booklet editors calling her his muse. Both pieces are in fact written with the charmingly wilfull Welsh performer in mind and realised (as a tiny black and white picture proves) with both present in the same room. Not only are they inspired by the composer’s love of her timbre, but also testimony to his great faith in her technique: “Lalishri”, opened by an introductory movement full of shimmering and tonally cornucopian flageolets, sees Benedetti fly through on-a-dime scale sprints, while “Dhyana” requires mimicry of traditional Indian instruments.

Both works are excellent examples of Taverner’s ability of creating the illusion of immersing himself completely in a foreign idiom, while really subtely crafting a new language over preexisting blueprints (“I never try to consciously write Indian music”, he says on the issue), as well as forming haunting melodies out of eery and edgey material. Mostly, he achieves this by an inversion of the tension arch, opening with aching emotional outcries and then consoling them in romantic harmonic resolutions. 

On other occasions though, his labyrinthine arrangements, which pick up a motive and let it dance on the peak of its waves, exchanging minor and major key at will and returning to a particular passage several times in changing contexts, burn particular passages firmly into the listener’s memory and subconsciousness. “Lalishri” uses the latter to create a glistening gemstone carpet of various themes and techniques in constant motion and various degrees of density.

Nicola Benedetti has not taken the challenge of recording these premieres lightheartedly. She never lets go of the unreal, slightly uncomfortable pressure, which runs through the album like a madman caught inside a pitchblack cave – the only exception being the heartwarming climax of “Song for Athene”, Taverner’s tribute to Lady Diana. But other than that, this is a remarkably dark and brooding CD.

It is the argument of ambiance which justifies the super-prominent position of her violin on “Lalishri”, which never develops full orchestral splendour and instead locks itself up in the isolation of its mysteries. It is the only moment here when one could come to conclude that Nicola Benedetti claims center stage just like any other of her colleagues.

Other than that, however, she picks up the music handed to her by Sir John Taverner as greedily as a starving woman, turning into the real star of the album by yet another quality seldom in today’s music business: Modesty.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Nicola Benedetti
Homepage: Deutsche Grammophon

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