Review: **** Manchester Evening News, Uk Tour, ‘Italy and the Four Seasons’, Bridgewater Hall Manchester

Nicola Benedetti last played The Four Seasons in the Bridgewater Hall just a year ago, guesting with Manchester Camerata in a performance which I found very rewarding. This time she was with her own little group – her cellist partner Leonard Elschenbroich among them – on a tour called Italy And The Four Seasons.

Vivaldi’s scene-painting music was as charming as ever: stylistically in tune with the latest ideas and highly imaginative. Birds chirruped, dogs barked, teeth chattered … and though it didn’t beat the best concert version of the music I’ve ever heard (by the Academy of Ancient Music, here five years ago), it was very good.

This was a chamber music concert, really, with just 11 musicians at the most on stage alongside Nicola and Leonard, and the hall is good for that. Their softest playing was a mere whisper, their imitative effects completely free and sometimes surprising, their fastest music simply furious.

It was interesting to hear the solo cello line coming out more strongly than you often do – but then, why not? There’s almost a duo piece to be heard in The Four Seasons if you listen for it.

Dropping the other listed Vivaldi concerto from the programme, Nicola Benedetti then introduced a superb little ensemble of National Children’s Orchestra string players from around the region, who shone like real stars in a movement from the Vivaldi G major concerto.

The second part of the concert included some really new music – Duetti D’Amore, by Mark-Anthony Turnage, written for Benedetti and Elschenbroich and getting its first performances on this tour, which began a week ago. This was its world cinquieme, if you want to be precise about it.

For violin and cello alone, its five brief sections are captivating, easy on the ear and at times hugely effective and haunting. I wondered just how it might work for a duo who weren’t committed to each other in a love relationship … but that’s a question for another day.

This playing, especially in the tender dialogue of the fourth movement, was very beautiful. And the ‘Blues’ finale, wittily bringing audible discord to the forefront, was exciting and, in the end, completely unified.

The concert finished with four string players back on stage with Benedetti and Elschenbroich to play the original sextet version of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir De Florence.

If there had been any doubts as to the scope of these musicians’ sympathies in successfully turning from baroque to high Romantic style, they disappeared in seconds.

It was glorious to hear, superbly balanced and voiced, passionate and thrilling and finally pure eloquence and fun.