Nicola Benedetti and Daniel Harding with the LSO review: so smooth it’s like gliding

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Nicola Benedetti and Daniel Harding with the LSO  (Mark Allan)
Nicola Benedetti and Daniel Harding with the LSO (Mark Allan)

Far from silenced by the pandemic, the violinist Nicola Benedetti has been using it to support young musicians, posting dozens of Zoom sessions and hundreds of videos to players of all standards round the world. It was good to hear her live again, though, and in a concerto tailored to her strengths: Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor.

It’s one of the composer’s most lyrical, least brittle works and from the ruminative opening bars, delivered by the soloist alone, it was clear that Benedetti was in her element, despite a repetitive strain injury. To the many melodious passages she brought her signature sweetness of tone. She has all the requisite virtuosity as well, of course, when it’s called for, but she throws it off lightly: her tone was never abrasive, even in the spiky finale.

Daniel Harding has also been in the news lately as he is about to begin a parallel career as an airline pilot, alongside that of orchestral conductor. Even while resisting the obvious aerial metaphors, I don’t believe it was too fanciful to experience his exquisite handling of the floating textures of the second movement of Debussy’s La Mer as something akin to gliding. Perhaps the sensation was enhanced by Harding’s physical gestures, his arms gently propelling the air above his head.

The score evokes a different element, of course, not least in the shimmering, glinting play of the waves. It’s a feast of colour and movement which Harding shaped authoritatively, holding something in reserve for a final exhilarating surge.

Benedetti was in her element, despite injury (Mark Allan)
Benedetti was in her element, despite injury (Mark Allan)

Before her untimely death in 1918 at the age of 24, Lili Boulanger managed to complete no fewer than 50 works. D’un Matin de Printemps is only five minutes long, but is a dazzling display of invention and technical accomplishment. The soundworld is Debussian and there’s an unmistakable echo of Ravel’s recently completed Daphnis et Chloé. But there also shines forth a blazingly original talent whose extinction is one of musical history’s major tragedies.

Dvorak’s symphonic poem The Wild Dove tells the tale of a young woman who fakes grief at the funeral of her husband, whom she has poisoned. (How one would love to know more of the back-story!) She soon falls in love with another man but the obsessive cooing of a wild dove above the grave of her first husband instils guilt and she takes her own life. Harding and the excellent LSO sensitively negotiated the switches between dark tragic colouring and sunny lyrical warmth. Especially poignant was the final chorale for wind and brass, complemented by seraphic strings: piteous, almost a benediction.

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