Benedetti explores contrasting Russian violin concertos in an album of two works composed four decades apart.


Nicola Benedetti’s new album on Decca Classics is a journey between two different, yet connected, concertos for the violin. Glazunov’s glittering 1904 work is separated from his pupil Shostakovich’s 1947 concerto, not only by 40 years, but also by several landmark events in history: the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s Terror and the Second World War. Benedetti performs these two works with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kirill Karabits.
Nicola maintains that, ‘the works on this album are polar opposites in their emotional expression, orchestral colour, formally and technically, and reflect the enormous shift in compositional trends during the first part of the twentieth century.’


DECCA CLASSICS ANNOUNCES NEW ALBUM SHOSTAKOVICH AND GLAZUNOV VIOLIN CONCERTOS Benedetti explores contrasting Russian violin concertos in an album of two works composed four decades apart.

Benedetti explores contrasting Russian violin concertos in an album of two works composed four decades apart.

Benedetti’s own encounter with Russian music began at the Yehudi Menuhin School with her violin teachers Natasha Boyarsky and Lutsia Ibragimova. Benedetti remembers this time vividly. ‘Lutsia’s daughter, Alina, and I became great friends, and on occasion we visited Natasha’s house to hear recordings of a panoply of historic Russian violin playing. I was thrust into a different world, a little terrifying, extremely demanding but so loving, so warm. It was in Natasha’s house I first saw, unforgettably, a film of David Oistrakh performing Shostakovich and perhaps better understood the place of the violin in Russian culture.’

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82

Alexander Glazunov’s compact concerto is dedicated to the great virtuoso Leopold Auer, is full of flowing lyricism and its three movements and cadenza are played continuously. Benedetti comments, ‘I think the music needs enormous freedom; its lilting Romanticism invites a chamber like conversation. In the Andante, there is such a sense of fantasy as it is so delicate and effervescent. The interweaving of violin with horn and wind soloists requires a flexibility and sensitivity back and forth between soloist and orchestra, and indeed within the orchestra. We have to trust each other implicitly to have this freedom.’

Benedetti continues, ‘The cadenza is very spontaneous-sounding. By this I mean it is designed to sound improvised, as if the violinist is choosing at a whim to go this way or that. Once again, it maintains a quite unusual sense of freedom. I see the rondo Allegro as the moment for showing off, in its light-hearted exuberance and array of violinistic acrobatics, it harks back to Paganini. There is so much colour, unhindered beauty and optimism in this concerto, and such an abundance of melodic material.’

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1, Op.99

Whilst Glazunov’s work boasts a sense of freedom, Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto was composed at a time of great artistic control in the Soviet Union. Composed in March 1948 when the Soviet Culture Secretary, Zhdanov, issued his infamous decree against ‘formalism’ in music, the work was quietly completed and shelved. Having been hauled before a Composers’ Union tribunal and forced to ‘repent,’ the work’s great personal significance to Shostakovich is clear.

‘The opening Nocturne is the most ambiguous and I think the most labyrinthine of all the movements. It’s like you are on a journey but you never arrive’, comments Benedetti. After the Scherzo lies the Passacaglia which is…’one of the most powerful things I ever play, so intimate, so tender, but something is screaming underneath.’

At the concerto’s crisis point, the violin is competing with the brass and Benedetti continues, ‘I cannot compete with the horns, but the music is asking for this edge, this extremity. When you get to the peak of this it is as if you are physically exhausted, there’s a sudden calm, a hopelessness, and you are left alone playing with just strings plucked in unison, drained of all colour. That moment leading into the cadenza sends shivers down my spine every time, whether listening or playing.’

The Cadenza begins with simple major arpeggios and, ‘you need to prepare for a long climb’, comments Benedetti. ‘There’s a throbbing fatalistic quality to those triplets, the rhythm is hinting that all is not well, despite the major arpeggios. Gradually you depart from them to hear the composer’s own DSCH signature in the music. Then he builds tension relentlessly, and there’s no let up until we reach the Burlesque.’

Originally, there was not meant to be a break between the cadenza and the tumultuous final movement but, even David Oistrakh, who gave the premiere in 1956 and according to Benedetti is, ‘one of the most well-balanced, natural players who ever lived’, demanded a break and sixteen bars of tutti were inserted. ‘This movement needs extreme drive which is very particular to Russian music: that idea of pushing forward but not rushing. It is a sweet spot that Kirill Karabits understands totally.’

On the Ukrainian conductor, Benedetti says: ‘Embarking on a concerto like this you need to have complete trust in your collaborators; this is no time for micro-managing a performance. Kirill is brilliant at finding the right focus, of ensuring things aren’t over-indulgent, he’s steadfast and uncompromising and we both worked towards the same end. Put that beside the great warmth and vivacity of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and I had the right partners.’