Perth Chamber Residency ***** Reviews

Nicola Benedetti and friends play Chamber Music, Perth Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty, Five stars

FOR the final major concert in her weekend residency at Perth Concert Hall on Saturday night, it might have been perceived that Nicola Benedetti wheeled out the big guns, re-joining her musical partners, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, adding into the mix the fabulous and keenly-intelligent viola player Scott Dickinson, formerly of the Leopold Trio, now principal viola player with the BBC SSO, and letting fly with a couple of the biggest blockbuster chamber music masterpieces in the book.

Well, it was an enthralling and magnetic concert experience, but it wasn’t quite as obvious as the end of the last sentence might suggest. For starters, Benedetti began on her own, with Alexei Grynyuk accompanying, in a little two-movement Sonata in a minor key by Mozart, K 304, where much of the music seemed to be characterised by stealth, restraint and understatement. This, I considered, could be a risky start: it was being followed by Brahms’ B Major Piano Trio, one of the richest, most golden-melodied pieces in Romantic chamber music: I still swoon to the legendary Stern-Istomin-Rose recording, which is ancient but will live forever in its big, almost wide-screen unfolding of Brahms’ glorious music.

The Benedetti group’s version of the Trio was almost electrifyingly different. It was infinitely more intimate, which instantly collapsed the broad horizons, drawing the listener in, and creating that magical sense that the composer is speaking just to you. Despite the sheer variety of music throughout the piece, that, to me, was its message. It was captured again and again in the great slow movement, where there was a wondrous stillness, and just at the opening of the finale, where it seemed that the music didn’t want to speak for fear of breaking the spell.

And then, with Scott Dickinson having joined the group, they did it all over again with Brahms’ Second Piano Quartet, his longest work of the chamber music species. I don’t know how anyone else in the audience might have perceived this performance, which was crystal-clear, but I was sat there, utterly rapt, listening to these wizards, these spell-binding musical narrators, weaving their intoxicating tales in abstract musical terms. Abstract, yes, but with precision-tooled accuracy in emotional terms. What a weekend.


Violin/Piano Recital

Nicola Benedetti in Recital, Perth Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

Five stars

I HAVE no idea what went on in the run-up to the opening night on Friday of Nicola Benedetti’s weekend residency in Perth, but there were significant changes to the violinist’s recital programme with her pianist, Alexei Grynyuk. Thank goodness. The concert was scheduled to open with Beethoven’s almighty Kreutzer Sonata, follow that with a graceful Mozart Sonata, and end with Brahms’ A major Sonata.

From the moment I heard that, I reckoned the programme was in trouble. The Kreutzer is a colossal sonata: It’s un-followable. It would have wiped the Mozart, as lovely as it is, off the face of the planet: Beethoven does not take prisoners. So the Kreutzer went last, climactically. The changes were for the better, in programme-balance and deployment of content. And there was more. Out went the Brahms A major and in came the same composer’s G major Sonata. Suddenly the programme was alive with complementary moods.
How late these changes were made I know not – pretty late, to judge from the onstage announcement of the re-ordering immediately before the show. No matter: everything, and performers, I suspect, benefited. It all felt right; and Benedetti and Grynyuk took off to the stars.

The ensuing performances gleamed with life and spirit: Mozart’s K377 Sonata (if that was the right one!) had lovely qualities of grace and playfulness, cleanly-played, the Brahms glowed -I melted at the gorgeousness of the slow movement, which was like a soft warm breath – while the stupendous performance of the Kreutzer had wings; and the performers’ nerves held rock-steady in a long hiatus when a member of the audience was taken ill.