This has the look of a career-making recording from Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti, putting her up against difficult repertory that diverges from the crowd-pleasing fare that formed the basis of her career up to this album. It would have been hard to predict just how well she pulls off her task here; few could have heard the profound interpreter of Russian music in the Italia and Silver Violin collections from earlier in the 2010s. The Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99, is an emotionally thorny work in five movements anchored by a tense passacaglia in the middle. The composer withheld it from publication during the period of renewed Stalinist repression in the late 1940s. It was premiered in 1955 by David Oistrakh, and in endurance and elevated tone even if not quite in lyrical grandeur, Benedetti brings that master to mind. Sample the Stravinskian "Burlesque" finale for a sense of how Benedetti gets outside herself here. The Glazunov Violin Concerto, Op. 82, is a more stable work, rooted in pre-WWI conservatory traditions, and Benedetti's reading is nothing short of letter-perfect.
"Scotland's sweetheart" and onetime BBC Young Musician of the Year Nicola Benedetti follows up her 2011 release Italia with this collection of music from the silver screen and beyond. Centered around Erich Korngold's lush Violin Concerto, the album features film music both old and new, such as John Williams' Schindler's List, Howard Shore's Eastern Promises, and Dario Marianelli's Jane Eyre. It also includes other classical works by Korngold, Mahler, and Shostakovich.
Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' first forays into classical music in the 1980s were celebrated as some kind of unique breakthrough, but that overlooked the fact that Marsalis was classically trained at the Juilliard School, absorbed all kinds of traditions, and has always had aspirations in the classical sphere. Credit Marsalis with broad ambitions when he turns to classical composition, as in his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), and again here with a Violin Concerto and Fiddle Dance Suite, written for violinist Nicola Benedetti. Both works are impressive, not least in their idiomatic writing for the violin; they flatter Benedetti considerably.
In her previous recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Nicola Benedetti displayed a varied repertoire that ranged from works by Vaughan Williams and Tavener to MacMillan and Szymanowski, which are not exactly eccentric choices but somewhat outside the usual programming for young virtuoso violinists. Yet the time has come for Benedetti to take on the blockbusters of her profession, and the violin concertos by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky and Max Bruch on this 2011 release are central to the genre.
Of the rarities presented in this unusual Russian music collection, the most tantalizing is Gliére’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra. Judging by the slight surface noise, it sounds as if this transfer could have been made from an LP. No matter, the sound is fine, and Joan Sutherland sings radiantly, pouring out beguiling tone throughout her range, while her trademark trills are put to good use by Gliére’s vocal writing, which isn’t particularly original, especially considering it was composed in 1943. The same can be said for Gliére’s 1938 Harp Concerto: beguiling solo writing set against standard-fare 19th-century orchestral accompaniment.