Nicola Benedetti: Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy

August 18, 2014

In a musical homecoming, Nicola Benedetti connects her classical training with the heart of Scottish folk music.



It's seems incredible that Max Bruch never visited Scotland. The Scottish landscape— equal parts rugged and charming, bleeds through every note of his signature "Scottish Fantasy." A violin concerto in all but name, "Scottish Fantasy" takes selections from traditional Scots folk music and merges them with Bruch's own German romanticism. 


In this album, premier Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti begins with the distinctive violin solo that sits atop Bruch's masterpiece, but soon delves deeper into the "Fantasy" itself, and beyond it, arranging folk music that sits in the heart of the Scottish reality, so to speak. A Scot herself, Benedetti's take feels as wild as the Scottish homeland, and as dignified as its people.

She pairs Bruch's score with traditional Scottish music, in both orchestra arrangements and in traditional folk style. The program features Benedetti accompanied by Rory MacDonald and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, but it also includes a number of Robert Burns songs arranged by Irish composer Paul Campbell and by Petr Limonov featuring well known Scottish folk artists.

Benedetti's take of the introduction to "Scottish Fantasy" is elegant and shapely. She fills the Scherzo with zest, building rhythms that reel and bounce like a Céilidh (a traditional Scottish folk dance). Benedetti and MacDonald work seamlessly to keep the movement, quite literally, dancing. The following Andante is the perfect sweet melancholy of the Highlands, and the final movement is as alive and infectious as the streets of Edinbrugh in summer.

Looking beyond the fantasy, Benedetti joins a group of traditional Scots musicians including Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain to play traditional Scottish tunes. Paul Campbell's arrangements glide through a variety of guises and interations: from melancholy to heroic pride, from a rough-and-ready to classical virtuosity, and Nicola Benedetti manages them all with the grace of a true Scottish woman, and of a world class violinist.

A Scottish Fantasy is unquestionably a return to Benedetti's roots, but in an article on the Decca website, she makes it clear that as a young classical musician in Scotland she was kept well away from traditional Scots music because the techniques required to play it are so very different, and distinctly non classical.

So while of course this album is a homecoming, it is also fundamentally an exploration. The classical and folk conversation is one of endless collaboration and crossover, shared material and techniques. A Scottish Fantasy seeks to remake and reinforce the connections between them, and it does so with joy.


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