Nicola Benedetti with Venice Baroque Orchestra

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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 4 2017

Solo violinist Nicola Benedetti with Venice Baroque Orchestra came to Koerner Hall last night for the last concert of their three week tour of thirteen cities in North America. For Benedetti, it was her second visit to Toronto, having performed previously with the TSO. For both soloist and orchestra, it was their first appearance in Koerner Hall. The capacity audience provided the enthusiastic welcoming party that they deserved. In turn they spread Italian joy over two hours of superb music-making.

The orchestra, formed in 1997 by its founder and leader Andrea Marcon, is composed of thirteen strings, harpsichord and lute. Its mission includes the rediscovery of 17th and 18th century masterpieces. Last night, the VBO began the program with three such sparkling gems. Little known composers Baldassare Galuppi, Charles Avison and Francesco Geminiani did what many musicians did in the mid-seventeenth century. They transcribed the music of others. Galuppi’s Concerto a Quattro No. 2 in G Major while not a strict transcription, has the imprint of Corelli all over it. On the other hand, Charles Avison’s Concerto Grosso No. 8 in E Minor is a direct transcription of a Scarlatti sonata. Similarly, Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor is a reworking for orchestra of a violin sonata by Corelli.

The orchestra played these works with vitality and precision. This listener particularly enjoyed the Amoroso(3rd Mov’t) of the Avison work. There was a delicate tenderness to the playing that was exemplary. Concert Master Gianpiero Zanocco and cellist Massimo Raccanelli Zaborra created the most of the humour in Geminiani’s music. This is clearly an orchestra with no limits to its virtuosity.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti; Photo credit:


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When Benedetti joined the orchestra, the concert elevated to a higher plain of passion and joy. She brought an infectious presence that seemed to inspire the other performers and audience alike. She made the music of Vivaldi feel as fresh as her virtuosic technique was almost unbelievably impossible. In her first work with the orchestra, Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for Violin, Strings and Basso Continuo, she galloped through a passage of high harmonics with ease. Despite having her bowing forearm wrapped, there was an elasticity in her wrist and hand that gave her the freedom to play the rapid fire passages with utmost clarity. This was violin playing of the highest order.

The Scottish born twenty-nine year old Benedetti, has been performing on major stages since the age of ten when she entered the Yehudi Menuhin School near London. She has been a strong advocate for music and arts education while developing her brilliant solo career and at age twenty-five was awarded the distinction of being named a Member of the Order of the British Empire.  

Following intermission, Benedetti and the VBO returned for a complete performance of Anontio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, RV 268, 315, 293, 297, Op. 8 No. 1-4. The familiar tunes sprang to life in each of the movements reflective of the spirit of their respective season. Bird calls, murmuring brooks, thunder storms, hunting horns and winter’s gloom could all be heard and felt. Once again, it was the exhuberantly inspired leadership of Benedetti that elevated this already superb ensemble. 

Benedetti was emotional in her acceptance of the standing ovation, feeling the sadness that comes from the end of a close and intense association with superb musicians on an extended tour such as their's. Together she and the orchestra performed three Vivaldi encores  for an audience that couldn’t get enough.

Benedetti will be returning to Toronto to perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, June 22-24, 2017.

Sir András Schiff will be performing an all Franz Schubert program in Koerner Hall, at 3pm on Sunday March 5 2017.

Nicola Benedetti and Venice Baroque Orchestra spread Italian gusto, joy and love!