REVIEW:New York Times Nicola Benedetti
By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
May 22, 2014
Two dominant figures from the British music scene made their Avery Fisher Hall debuts with the New York Philharmonic on Wednesday evening. The fiery Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and music director, for over a decade, of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, led the Philharmonic for the first time, drawing a strong performance that was especially memorable for the raw power of the music’s climaxes. The 26-year-old Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, who had previously appeared only in a parks concert with the orchestra, stepped in to perform Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 at a moment’s notice when the Dutch star violinist Janine Jansen had to withdraw on doctor’s orders.
Szymanowski’s concerto has been a companion in key moments of Ms. Benedetti’s career: 10 years ago it was the vehicle with which she won her career-starting first prize in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. The febrile one-movement concerto, written in 1916, which blends French subtlety of color with Straussian elation in its many peaks, is rarely performed. It’s exactly the sort of specialty showpiece young violinists can use to distinguish themselves on the concert scene — and at a Philharmonic debut.
The work juxtaposes nervous, fragmented passages with generously measured singing phrases, and both Ms. Benedetti and Mr. Jurowski proved adept at molding them with dramatic intent. Ms. Benedetti’s sound in the stratosphere of her register is almost improbably pure and gleaming; at times it resembled the supernatural song of a theremin.
But the concerto also features extensive passages played on the G string, where she dug for a tougher, more textured quality. The Philharmonic players responded with alacrity to the frequent changes in character. In one arresting instance a crashing forte gave way to a muted cobweb of strings over which Ms. Benedetti’s violin soared with luminous grace.
In the second half of the program, Mr. Jurowski conducted a selection from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” a ballet score written between 1940 and 1944. The composer’s concert suites (he arranged three) include only a handful of musical numbers. In this hourlong rendition of the story, the lack of visual interest ultimately began to tire. To be sure, Mr. Jurowski brought out the many inventive touches and quick character sketches of this cartoon-music-like score. The main theme, a somewhat lugubrious waltz, undergoes multiple transformations every time it returns.
Low instruments carry a lot of comic and dramatic weight in the score, and it was a pleasure to hear the orchestra’s excellent bass section and Alan Baer, its principal tuba, rise to the challenge. A duo of solo violins (the principal associate concertmaster, Sheryl Staples, and the assistant concertmaster, Michelle Kim) gave a delicious impersonation of the catty stepsisters. The percussion section became a thoroughly convincing clock at midnight. But details of this fine performance ultimately added up to little more than a glittering parade of cool sound effects and suave melodies.
The program repeats on Friday and Saturday at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; nyphil.org.