New Classical Tracks - A Scottish Take on the Italian Baroque

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
February 29, 2012
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St. Paul, Minn. — You might be wondering why Nicola Benedetti has a Scottish accent if her parents were both born in Italy. They moved to Scotland when Nicola was just a child, so she grew up with one foot in both cultures. Her latest recording, titled Italia, allows her to celebrate both aspects of her heritage, by playing Italian music with a Scottish orchestra.

For most of her career, Benedetti has focused on mainstream Romantic concertos. About three years ago, with some hesitation she started to explore the Baroque era. Much to her surprise, she discovered the music of Vivaldi and other 18th century composers was a perfect fit. Benedetti's focus on Baroque music has also enhanced the way she plays other styles of music, "I would say the biggest thing I learned and took from the process of preparing for Italia — doing so much intense Baroque playing with a Baroque bow — was a sense of freedom, just immense freedom," she explains. "And fearlessness in what I was deciding to do. That's probably the biggest thing I gained from that experience and that I continue to gain from playing so much Baroque repertoire."

Italia opens with the "Grosso Mogul" concerto for violin and strings in D major by Vivaldi, a concerto whose title hints at Indian influences. Nicola Benedetti became quite comfortable with Indian classical music after premiering "Lalishri," a work inspired by a 14th century Hindu saint and poet, written especially for her by John Tavener, "I got to know that style quite well, more than a lot of classical musicians would necessarily be exposed to. On top of that, there is the suggestion that the name of the concerto had some connection to India and to the ruler of India.I think I hear so many different cultures and harmonies and sounds in that, that you would not associate with Vivaldi."

Violinist Fritz Kreisler popularized the "Devil's Trill" sonata by Giuseppe Tartini after creating his own arrangement. On this new release, Nicola Benedetti says she returned to the composer's original score, "The Kreisler arrangement harmonically is slightly different. It doesn't really lend itself to being played in a bouncy, Baroque style, and definitely not with a Baroque bow. I just preferred it actually. It's a little bit more of what I believe Tartini's character to be. So, slightly more sentimental, slightly more tender."

It's standard when performing Baroque music to use vibrato sparingly, saving it for added expression. For the most part, Benedetti adheres to that tradition, though she did struggle with her interpretation of the two Vivaldi arias which appear on this recording, "I think so much of the time when you're playing Baroque music you're relying on the fact that there are a lot of shorter notes, a lot of string crossing, a lot of effects whereby you can take advantage of the use of the light bow," she explains, "and I think with those arias I was really required to sing."

Nicola Benedetti says putting this new disc together was the most fun she's ever had making a recording, thanks in part to the talent, and the flexibility of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Christian Curnyn. As an Italian-born, Scottish violinist, she also found that this project was a perfect fit. "It was really like me sort of peering into my past," she explains, "but very much with my present surroundings. So that was wonderful!"

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