Nicola Benedetti’s captivating performance

Ipswich Orchestral Society, Autumn Concert featuring Nicola Benedetti, Corn Exchange, Ipswich, Saturday November 27 2010

The Corn Exchange in Ipswich provided the venue for the Ipswich Orchestral Society’s Autumn Concert. It was a sell-out and members of the audience who had braved the wintry weather conditions to get there were rewarded by some excellent playing.

The Karelia Suite, written in 1893 for a pageant depicting scenes from Karelian history, got off to a shaky start with the exposed, notoriously difficult opening for the horns in the Intermezzo. However, the Alla Marcia settled the nerves and was performed with confidence.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is a favourite piece for soloists in spite of its technical difficulties. Nicola Benedetti treated everyone to a totally captivating performance which created a very special atmosphere in the concert hall, especially in the Larghetto second movement. She demonstrated her ability to communicate without being overly demonstrative on stage; her playing subtly commanded everyone’s attention. In achieving this, Nicola was splendidly supported by the orchestra. The substantial first movement exposition, in which the orchestra announces a procession of themes, was well controlled and very musically played, from the soft opening drum beats to the moment of suspense before the soloist enters. Soloist and orchestra were in excellent accord in the joyous Rondo finale, with the woodwind and horns sensitively interacting with the soloist’s runs and double stopping. The audience clearly appreciated the opportunity to hear a first rate young soloist playing with an orchestra the calibre of the Ipswich Orchestral Society.

Mahler was fascinated by the sounds of life that surrounded him, such as sounds of nature, folk music, or a hurdy-gurdy playing in a local village, and he possessed the ability to reproduce on the piano the sounds he heard and subsequently use them in his compositions. Any performance of Mahler’s 1st Symphony requires skill and control from both the conductor and the players – not least the string sections in playing harmonics softly, such as those heard at the start of the symphony. From the start the performers under the expert leadership of their conductor Adam Gatehouse, demonstrated an understanding and empathy with Mahler’s composition. In the first movement, the evocation of nature heard in the shimmering strings and cuckoo calls on the clarinet, through to the dramatic, crisp ending of that movement was effectively mastered. Equally moving was the lilting trio in contrast to the vigorous second movement, a country dance. The mournful mood of the slow movement Frere Jacques theme, first heard as a double bass solo, was powerfully portrayed and also brilliantly shattered by confident outbursts from the brass. The orchestra handled the finale well, with all its contrasting themes, emotions and dynamic range. This was a thoroughly convincing and rewarding performance for which the orchestra and conductor deserve high praise.

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Jenny Jones

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