Nicola Benedetti was in town with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as part of the International Orchestra Series in Dublin’s National Concert Hall. Benedetti’s rise to fame over the last decade has been swift – there were some high expectations of the Scottish born violinist. Apart from all else, the prospect of hearing her instrument – a Stradivarius valued at about £10m pounds – brings an added element of interest.
Before we get to that though, conductor Kirill Karabits leads the orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet. Every bit as romantic as the name suggests, the work has the broad sweep of a film score, its themes of love and loss writ large. Karabits is restrained on the podium, the orchestra’s playing the same. This orchestra’s loud, the brass at times nearly overwhelming, but the grand scale of the music calls for a powerful sound.
Benedetti takes the stage then for her performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major. While Tchaikovsky’s music had a filmic quality to it, Korngold’s concerto is at times almost a pastiche of 1940s Hollywood– no great surprise, as the composer is still probably best known for his film scores. The opening movement begins with a sumptuous theme from the violin – Benedetti’s tone is sweet and clear. While those opening measures are lyrical, much of what follows is better described as a technical display of skill, as Benedetti is tasked with ever more complex flights of virtuosity.
The Romance second movement is, if anything, even more overblown than the first – the sweeping support from the orchestra more balanced than in the first movement, the melancholic violin passages given some nice colour by Benedetti. The third and final movement is more light-hearted; the dance-like opening figures on the violin set the stage for more displays of Benedetti’s skills.
Karabits comes to life for the final work of the night – Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major sees him use the full strength of the orchestra. From the depth of the basses to the powerful string playing, the orchestra attack the work with a real sense of energy – the end of the first movement is as dramatic as they come.
The Allegro second movement keeps that energy up – the opening ostinato measures in the strings seeming to swell and recede, before the whole orchestra is let loose. Propulsive and inventive, the movement is a real pleasure – it seems Prokofiev had a sense of humour, and Karabits and his musicians bring it out. The Adagio third movement is a more sombre thing, almost ominous at times, but lively nonetheless. The Allegro fourth movement is just as dramatic – as they reach the finale, the brass find some more volume to match the weight of the percussion, as it all comes together for the last, explosive chord – a fitting finish to the night’s music.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Romeo & Juliet: Fantasy Overture
Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100