Music review: Nicola Benedetti and the London Symphony Orchestra, LSO St Luke's, London

Nicola Benedetti shone in the world premiere performance of Mark Simpson’s new Violin Concerto, writes Ken Walton

Nicola Benedetti performing Mark Simpson's Violin Concerto with the LSO

Nicola Benedetti and the London Symphony Orchestra, LSO St Lukes, London ****

Had things been different, Nicola Benedetti would have given RSNO audiences the same privilege she was able to offer London Symphony Orchestra audiences this season: a chance to hear live the new Violin Concerto written for her by clarinettist, composer and close friend Mark Simpson.

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However, with the LSO releasing the world premiere online, on Marquee TV, the RSNO – fearing an online clash – chose not to follow suit in its current digital season, although it has a live Scottish premiere in sight for early 2022.

So the LSO has stolen a march on the other commissioning partners, Germany’s WDR Sinfonieorchester, the Cincinnati Symphony and, of course, the RSNO. But if its online premiere, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, is anything to go on, an eventual Scottish performance will be well worth waiting for.

This is a full-on, big-hearted concerto. Cast in five movements, breathless in its intent, there’s hardly a moment where Simpson’s writing does not seem like a delirious outpouring of multiple passions. That is a major strength, but also, to some extent, a weakness.

Benedetti’s belief in it is a winning factor. The boiling intensity of the opening Lamentoso, a cocktail of mercurial exotica and big rhapsodic gestures, turns to wild abandon in the ensuing dance. Then there’s a heated love song, not without euphoric tantrums, a vigorous rhetorical cadenza, and a frantic whirlwind finale, which is where that hint of sensory overkill sets in. In the flesh, that might not be such an issue. So let’s hear it live.

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