Expectations were high ahead of the first of the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev’s four-concert series of music by Brahms and Szymanowski. Though this pairing was in itself an intriguing prospect, it was the Festival debut of Ayrshire-born violinist Nicola Benedetti performing Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No1 which ensured this was one of the first things at the Festival to sell out.
Benedetti’s performance of the shimmering Szymanowski concerto won her the BBC Young Musician title in 2004, and catapulted the then 16-year-old to international stardom. Benedetti first heard it when she was 14 and has described how she was “completely dazzled” by the Polish composer’s mysterious soundscape. Last night, it was the audience’s turn to be dazzled as the young Scot played with unassuming virtuosity and seemingly effortless grace.
Szymanowski confessed to suffering a psychological torment which made it impossible for him to complete his First Symphony. His suffering came through under Gergiev’s baton, with the LSO bringing out the rich texture and tonal complexity of the composer’s fascinating, if incomplete, symphony.
Brahms was so self-critical that he took the best part of two decades to complete his First Symphony, in which he payed homage to past masters, most notably Beethoven. Far from being justly rewarded, early audiences sneeringly referred to it as ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’.
The LSO did Brahms’s hard work justice with a spirited performance. Gergiev’s trademark fluttering hand gesture might appear unreadable from a distance but the orchestra responded to his direction with passion and precision.