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February 16, 2014

Violinist Nicola Benedetti comes into her own at the Folly Theater

Violinist Nicola Benedetti, whom the BBC named Young Musician of the Year in 2004 when she was 16, demonstrated that she is well on her way to fulfilling her enormous potential in a strikingly vital concert Saturday at the Folly Theater.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti demonstrated that she's well on her way to fulfilling her enormous potential in a strikingly vital concert Saturday at the Folly Theater.

The BBC named Benedetti the Young Musician of the Year in 2004 when she was 16. A lucrative recording contract soon followed. Noting Benedetti's compelling visage, some observers dismissed her as classical music's version of Britney Spears.

A decade later, those cynics have been proven woefully wrong. A bit of the Scotland native's popularity may be attributed to her appearance, but Benedetti's remarkable talent has fueled her flourishing career. She's recorded a string of lauded albums, was named the Classic BRIT Female Artist of the Year in both 2012 and 2013 and was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her efforts on behalf of charitable causes and music education last year.

Benedetti is one of the few classical artists promoted with costly conceptual music videos. Joshua Bell may be the only violinist under the age of 50 more widely known than Benedetti. Even so, the audience of about 800 didn't fill the Folly Theater for the concert presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series.

Like a great actress, Benedetti completely inhabited the musical worlds created by the four composers featured in Saturday's program. Her mannerisms altered for each selection. Her countenance was bold and assertive during Ludwig Van Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2. Benedetti's furiously intense bowing implied rage as she played Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80. Two pieces from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera Die Tote Stadt showcased Benedetti in the role of a grief-stricken lover. Her demeanor reflected blissful meditation as she played the pastoral portions of Edward Elgar's Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82.

Benedetti performed each work with knowing assurance, as if the composers were whispering in her ear. Her exceptional sensitivity was enhanced by the accompaniment of the Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk. The two have been playing together for six years and have developed a seemingly telepathic rapport.

The duo setting allowed Benedetti the freedom to suffuse each selection with her acute perspective. Using Grynuk's steady foundation as a springboard, Benedetti attacked Prokofiev's Sonata with an almost improvisatory sensibility, intentionally applying dissonant shadings with her magnificent 1717 Gariel Stradivarius. She made the challenging work accessible without compromising its integrity. Making the difficult seem inviting may be Benedetti's most valuable talent.

She conveyed Beethoven's intent with similarly unsettling clarity. Beethoven's despairing brilliance and weary resignation were rendered with staggering authority. The tragically beautiful Korngold pieces with imbued with deep melancholy and a profound sense of loss. While sublimely elegant, Elgar's Sonata was the least captivating component of the evening. The relative formality of the composition didn't provide Benedetti with the flexibility to exhibit the depth of her interpretive skills.

An unusually disruptive amount of dropped programs and loud coughs spoiled a number of potentially sublime moments. Otherwise, the concert was entirely triumphant. Benedetti didn't merely prove that she's shed her former status as a youthful novelty. She's clearly become an important artist of significant merit.

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