Nicola Benedetti, Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy, Decca Classics
Nicola Benedetti is a 26-year-old, world-class violinist. On her latest recording, she's also a Scottish fiddler.
"It's definitely quite a different skill," Benedetti admits. "You want to produce a different sound. I think I had to get much more into an expression of a collective voice, something that was more subtle and less demonstrative and has a rhythmic quality that anyone and everyone can relate to and understand."
On Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy, Nicola Benedetti, a Scottish-born violinist of Italian heritage, explores her Scottish roots by combining the traditions of classical and Scottish folk music. She says it all started with Max Bruch's amazing 30-minute concerto based on four Scottish tunes. "It's quite an achievement for Bruch, seeing as he never visited Scotland, to have captured Scotland's heart and soul quite as much as he did," Nicola explains. "It served very much as the base as an expanded concept for the rest of the recording for me.
"In the end, I settled on three distinct sections. First, the Max Bruch Scottish Fantasy. The second, a tribute to Robert Burns, who was a songwriter and a poet, and egalitarian and quite a feisty figure. And also, it has to be said, a deep sort of heartbreaking romantic also. I grew up very much with him in my consciousness because he grew up in Ayrshire. He is very dear to the people there and that's the county I grew up in, too. So it seemed appropriate. Plus, I just think his tunes have just a sincerity to them. I would particularly single out 'Ae Fond Kiss' as one of his deepest moments.
"And the last is something really unusual for a classical soloist and definitely unusual for me … which is the exploration of Scottish folk music. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do that. Despite being a violinist who grew up in Scotland, I didn't actually play much at all in the way of Scottish traditional music. This was a chance for me to re-explore a lot of things I heard as a child, but I didn't actually partake in performing."
As you listen to the first movement of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, you may find it hard to believe he had never been to Scotland. Nicola says Bruch evokes the Scottish landscape perfectly. "He starts with the harp. It makes a declaration right at the beginning of the piece of music," Nicola says. "And then before the violin enters, the strings come in with just a fairly regular minor chord, but in such a hushed tone there's a real kind of mystic, dark quality that can be related easily to the landscape of Scotland, the climate of Scotland. And I think he very much captures that darkness. It goes from there into something much more tumultuous and then emerges into the first of the four tunes we hear, which is 'Auld Rob Morris.' That's really a sweet tune that sounds even more sweet after all that darkness at the beginning."
As she recorded the third movement of the Scottish Fantasy with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Nicola recalls something truly magical happened as they ran through the movement for the very first time.
"The third movement emerges from the second. And out of that blossoms just a painfully sweet, beautiful melody. And there's just something so incredible about hearing those notes for the first time in that setting," she says. "They appear as they should appear. They appear fresh, like clouds have just parted and sunshine came in, or whatever it is you may see. It was definitely a clear moment to everybody there and we got most of that take in the recording."
In the last part of Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy, Nicola Benedetti turns to the world of traditional Scottish music. She's joined by a group of talented folk musicians and friends including Phil Cunningham, Aly Bain, and Julie Fowlis, each of whom add a personal touch to tunes like "Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond,' a farewell melody that closes out this recording. "It is 'Loch Lomond,' but 'Loch Lomond' with a twist," Nicola says, "taking you through a variety of different expressions: from quite intimate to very heroic, to much more rough with the jig, to something that's very virtuosic, and then closing with a sort of hymn. So, yeah, that was a lot of fun."
All the music performed here has a personal connection for Nicola Benedetti after recording music by French, Italian and English composers, she's making her own musical homecoming on this disc.