“I hope you like Brahms...” said a slightly sheepish Nicola Benedetti in a disarmingly direct, personal introduction to her solo recital with regular piano partner Alexei Grynyuk. That’s the music she had planned, anyway, and plenty of it: all three of the composer’s violin sonatas, back to back. It felt like a strangely heavy-going, single-focus programme for such an intimate, involving evening.
Nicola Benedetti & Alexei Grynyuk ****
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
The duo’s performances, however, were gloriously contrasting. Benedetti seemed almost to sob in her tremulous lines in the First Sonata, pitched uncannily between joy and tragedy, and she found a towering muscularity in a full-throttle, no-holds-barred Third Sonata, matched by Grynyuk’s steely pianism. They were expert, too, in conveying the architectural scope of the breezier Second Sonata. There were occasional disagreements over ensemble, with both players finding their own ways of moulding Brahms’s melodies that didn’t always coincide. But in the end, that only added to the spontaneity and sincerity of their accounts.
What made the evening really memorable, however, was Benedetti’s refreshing format: her chatty introductions to each piece, her personal but informed perspectives on the music, and a within-concert Q&A session that ranged from her studies to her beloved Strad. There might have been a bit too much emphasis on the ups and downs of Brahms’s biography – especially the ins and outs of his love life – at the expense of more solid musical concerns. But in terms of bringing listeners closer to the music, and to the pair’s experiences of rehearsing and performing it, it worked a treat.