Edinburgh Academy Junior School
Malcolm Martineau and Friends
Old College Quad
AS Nicola Benedetti made clear once again on Saturday evening, for her the music of Vivaldi is not a mere foray into early music but an exploration of her own family history. Add that to the sensation of playing for a live audience in her Scottish homeland for the first time in 16 months and it is little wonder she was moved to tears, even if they took the musician herself by surprise.
The 12-strong group the violinist led, through a programme mostly from her hit album, and mostly by the 18th century Venetian master, was exactly as on the disc in the rhythm and continuo department, with the familiar talents of violinist Huw Daniel and viola player Felix Tanner joining the re-jigged upper strings. The hybrid approach to the music was also the same, more about drama and flair than period band austerity, but with an absence of any bow-shredding histrionics.
In fact the leader was more troubled by her own locks than the horse-hair, and a hair-band that refused to stay in place on her head. She was also, significantly, like the rest of the band, in stage blacks, dressed down even from the outfit the London Times critic foolishly described as gymwear when the group made its debut at Battersea Arts Centre.
The necessity for amplification in the Festival’s temporary substitute for the Usher Hall has created some difficulties at other concerts, but Benedetti Baroque made it work to their advantage. In an entirely acoustic setting, harpsichord and lute or theorbo can often be too quiet to be fully appreciated, while here Steven Devine, and particularly lutenist Elizabeth Kenny provided a crucial rhythmic ingredient from the opening performance of Geminiani’s somewhat relentless La Folia.
The two Vivaldi concertos that followed were well chosen to demonstrate his variety, especially in the way the soloist interacted with the lower strings of cellist Jonathan Byers and SCO principal bass Nikita Naumov or with the six violinists and violas, and then – more so in the darker B Minor RV386 – with the whole ensemble.
Benedetti’s own virtuosity almost seemed incidental, and it is telling that she has chosen not to record Vivaldi’s most familiar solo violinist’s showpiece, the Four Seasons. Nonetheless, EIF asked her to include a selection here, and the evening sun even shone for her purposeful, unshowy, evocation of Summer.
Earlier in the day, Edinburgh’s home-coming hero was pianist Malcolm Martineau, playing a programme of music setting the words of Sir Walter Scott at the Old College Quad. He and singers Elizabeth Watts and Roderick Williams unearthed some rare gems by Glinka and Meyerbeer alongside better-known Schubert and Beethoven, with contributions from cellist Ursula Smith and violinist Sijie Chen.
Although the recital would certainly have worked much better in the Queen’s Hall, Watts and Martineau combined in a glorious reading of Schubert’s Ave Maria (words translated from Scott’s The Lady of the Lake) and Williams provided a delicious little parlour song of his own devising for the encore.