LSO/Gaffigan review – Nicola Benedetti does her best with unrestrained Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is a very busy musician. On the night Nicola Benedetti was premiering his violin concerto in London, Marsalis was in Princeton, on tour with his Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. So one could understand if he feared he might not get the time to write another violin concerto. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to be throwing everything he had at this one.

It’s called Concerto in D, which throws up expectations of something classically formal – but while Marsalis has some nice ideas, he barely develops any of them, which is a problem in a work lasting a whopping 50 minutes.

A languid opening painted from a Mahlerian palette gives way to something like a rumba, which morphs into a march. There’s jazz in there, and blues, but more than that, the music feels folksy – with Benedetti getting stuck into long solo passages of Celtic-tinged yankee-doodle dances. The finale starts with loud stomps and claps from the orchestral players, and one of the best passages comes when the ensuing hoedown calms itself into an elegant but quirky dance for violin and solo viola. Benedetti initially had to tell Marsalis her part wasn’t difficult enough; it’s certainly difficult now, and her sparky performance sold the work to us with all she could muster. It still felt like the longest concerto ever written.

The opener was Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, a joyous nugget of written-out big-band jazz, with the LSO’s Chris Richards freewheeling on clarinet. James Gaffigan, who barely needed to conduct, was practically dancing on the podium. Later, he was in command in a snappy, punchy performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. “Old-fashioned and sweet” is how Bernstein described his Chichester Psalms, which found the London Symphony Chorus on buoyant form, with a beautifully simple central solo from treble Ben Hill. After the Marsalis, it was not only its sweetness that registered, but also its concision.

by Erica Jeal
Source: The Guardian

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