Nicola Benedetti and Friends, LSO St Luke’s

 

Ever since she was voted BBC Young Musician of the Year, Nicola Benedetti has found ways of staying in the limelight.

Last week she was back in the papers with news that a rich admirer had lent her a £6 million Strad in exchange for a promise that she would periodically serenade him and his friends with it. This is not such a rare occurrence – many leading string players have their Strads and Guarneris on loans of this kind – but her celebrity guaranteed yet more column inches.

Residual problems with her technique may forever deny her a place in the violinists’ pantheon with Maxim Vengerov, Janine Jansen and co, but she has devised some excellent uses for her celebrity, of which her ‘and friends’ residency at LSO St Luke’s is the latest. And these friends are really something: violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, violist Maxim Rysanov, cellist Leonard Elsenbroich, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk are all star chamber players, and Benedetti has welded them into a team. Thus it was that we were gathered – with an impressively full house for a lunchtime concert – to listen to Shostakovich and Mahler, as the spring sunshine streamed in through the windows of this exquisitely converted church.

Lev Atomyan’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano is a charming amalgam of the composer’s music to two films and a ballet, and with Benedetti playing second fiddle to Sitkovetsky the sweetly harmonised lines sang out beautifully. Mahler’s early Piano Quartet Movement in A minor wears its debt to Brahms and Schumann boldly on its sleeve, but, though an accomplished pastiche, it has genuine life of its own which this group realised convincingly.

Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor was written in 1940, at that key moment in his career when he could still hope to fend off attack by the Communists. Its serene reworking of Bachian influences earned it instant popularity and even a Stalin Prize, and it’s still one of his best-loved chamber works. It certainly brought out the best in Benedetti’s ensemble (and allowed her new Strad to shine): the fugue had wonderful poise, and the residue left in the mind when the strains of the Finale had died away was pure enchantment. Radio 3 will broadcast this concert on April 4: well worth catching.

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