I’ve taken a little bit of time to get to Nicola Benedetti’s Prom. A full four days in fact. In years gone by I’d see that as evidence of me slacking. Now, with a little more time on my hands, knowing I have something I’m looking forward to listen to on iPlayer Radio makes the wait all the more tantalising.
Benedetti is an amazing musician. She is a natural on-stage, incredibly expressive in her playing, and a brilliant ambassador. She projects an air of down-to-earth confidence in everything she does. She’s also something rare in the UK classical music scene: a good bet for a captivating performance. There are a handful of others like her, but not many.
The Shostakovich in this Prom – a dark, poignant, and often visceral work that contains a great many musical signposts to some of the composer’s other works – is a complex exploration. It’s also a far more personal work in comparison to some of Shostakovich’s more populist creations.
This is a ‘meaty’ work. Steak and chips on a Saturday night with a couple of slices of bread, baked beans, and probably gravy too. It’s a commitment. You may experience some mild indigestion during or after, but it will be worth it.
Benedetti’s musicianship will carry you through. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ precision will make your jaw drop too. The investment you make in the bleak third movement cadenza (Benedetti creates something especially riveting here) is repaid in the visceral fourth movement in which soloist and orchestra career towards a near cataclysmic conclusion.
Compared the disappointing Rachmaninov Piano Concerto the night before, this was an electrifying performance of a work I don’t recall ever having heard it in its entirely before now, despite its regular appearance at the Proms since 2000.
An undisputed highlight of this year’s season.