Baroque

Nicola Benedetti

Baroque

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone making an album of Baroque music is the sheer volume of works to choose from. For Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti, any musical celebration of the 18th century has to include Vivaldi, the great Italian composer who himself wrote more than 500 violin concertos. “You have to wade through a lot!” she tells Apple Music. “I really love Vivaldi and, in preparation, I listened to hundreds of his concertos.” Baroque showcases four of them, as well as a work by the lesser-known Francesco Geminiani, whose Concerto Grosso is an arrangement of a set of theme and variations by Corelli. “The Corelli is a favorite of so many young people learning to play,” says Benedetti. “But Geminiani’s version just takes you into all extremes that Corelli’s doesn’t. It’s really a lot more bold.”
Benedetti describes Baroque music as embodying an “expressive indulgence” at a time when artists, composers, and architects pushed their imaginations to their limits. Certainly in 18th-century Venice, Naples, and Rome, excitement, passion, and beauty were the building blocks of secular and church music. “The challenge with this music is to do enough and to have the boldness to do enough,” admits Benedetti, adding that Vivaldi—a man with Baroque coursing through his veins—gave her the courage she needed to be daring. Accompanying her in that process here is a crack team of the UK’s finest period instrumentalists, among them Kati Debretzeni and Matthew Truscott from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, plus celebrated continuo players, lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and harpsichordist Steven Devine, who all bring an energy and vitality to the textures. “Making music with them was edifying,” explains the violinist. “They all bring an entire history of all the various groups they’ve played with. I’m constantly watching exactly what my musicians are doing, looking at their eyes and seeing how they’re articulating things, and then I have to try and sit within that sound. You have to absorb so much.” From that process, you can expect a scintillating album housing a thrilling, visceral exchange of musical ideas. Read on as Benedetti guides us through it, one work at a time.
Concerto Grosso in D Minor, H. 143 “La Folia” “This is a theme and variations on a historic and popular bassline chord progression. The sarabande-type theme that plays over the top of the ground bass has a very somber feel, and you can almost imagine a masked dance—it has that misterioso feel to it. There are a lot of variations—it’s long for this type of piece—and there are one or two of them that are much slower and that take you into another world altogether. Geminiani pushes the boundaries of how far away from a theme you can go without it officially not being a variation on that theme anymore!”
Violin Concerto in D Major, RV 211 “There are a good number of D-major concertos written by Vivaldi. This key meant something to him, and he always uses it in a very bright way. At the start of this concerto, you can imagine the doors bursting open, like the beginning of a procession. I always imagine trumpets more than I imagine the violin! The work is in a typical form of three movements with an intimacy in the second movement and much more of a chase in the third. There are a lot of running semi-quavers and much lightness and virtuosity.”
Violin Concerto in E-Flat Major, RV 257 “From the beginning, the opening movement has this continuous engine played by the violas. The solo part is quite lyrical, but also very playful. Some of the phrases feature his usual sequences. But then, suddenly, the music bursts into something that’s extremely melodic. The second movement has this slow-paced kind of gallop feel. Its dotted rhythm is quite simple, but it’s one of my absolute favorite things to play. The last movement is in three, and we try to play it as rough as possible.”
Violin Concerto in B Minor, RV 386 “I love the thematic material of the B Minor Concerto, but it’s the solos for me that really bring this movement to light. Vivaldi writes these flourishes, arpeggios, and sequences that have this continual, fast semi-quaver motion. But there’s one moment in the first movement, a minute from the end, where time seems to stop. And then, suddenly, we enter a world of a drum with the most dramatic, fierce music possible. It’s almost got a pop vibe to it. The second movement is like a written-out improvisation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vivaldi simply played some random improvisation and wrote out roughly what he played! The last movement is like a semi-quaver chase where each bar races towards the next.”
Violin Concerto in B-Flat Major, RV 583 “I drove myself crazy listening to [Italian violinist] Giuliano Carmignola’s recording of this movement. I don’t feel that I reached his level at all, but I did my very best. I love this movement with all my heart. It’s basically in a theme-and-variations form, but it’s like it’s from the soul of an angel. It’s just phenomenal.”

Concerto Grosso in D Minor, H. 143 "La Folia" (After Corelli Violin Sonata, Op. 5 No. 12)
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Violin Concerto in D Major, RV 211
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Violin Concerto in E-Flat Major, RV 257
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Violin Concerto in B Minor, RV 386
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Violin Concerto in B-Flat Major, RV 583
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