Nicola Benedetti, the Scottish prodigy, came to the Sheldonian to play Beethoven on a blustery late November evening and did everything but actually play her fiddle upside down. Benedetti stood looking cheerfully thoughtful during the concerto's introduction. Then up with her bow and she was away, slipping sylph-like along the fluting high notes. Her long, quite florid cadenza (the standard one by Fritz Kreisler) rather stood out among the restraint on offer elsewhere since, as usual, Marios Papadopoulos led the Oxford Philharmonic with unshowy aplomb, allowing them scope to play without micro-managing.
Benedetti maintained a smooth, modulated volume, telling me afterwards she had been properly mindful that the cubic space at the Sheldonian is not huge. Any conductor not determined to impose his/her will on all and sundry is of course bound to respond to the volume dialled by the soloist, and given that this is never Maestro Papadopoulos' way, Benedetti and orchestra dovetailed in perfect harmony, allowing the unending stream of Beethovenian melody to swirl about us. This cascading effect was aided by the lack of break between the larghetto and concluding rondo. Her performance was profound without pomposity in the first movement, lyrical without sentimentality in the slow movement and playful without trivialization in the rondo.
After the interval – on a wet, windy night the primitive facilities of the Sheldonian are especially unfortunate – we were on to Elgar's Enigma Variations. The helpful programme notes discussed quite fully the identity of the dedicatees for each segment, though I've always preferred to leave this aspect to the cruciverbalists and Sudokumanes. After the melodic variety in G of the initial section, the segments tripped by briskly until 'Nimrod' sounded as a call to attention.
From here on Papadopoulos teased out smooth solos particularly from the woodwind section, especially the pungent punch of the bassoons in 'G.R.S' as the bulldog went pell-mell down the hill and into the River Wye, and then the beauty of the solo clarinet (David Rix was the first player to be brought to his feet at the end) in 'B.G.N'. There were the perfectly sprung hesitations in 'Dorabella' floating away in the silence with nods to The Nutcracker, and the fine blare of brass with tuba was a joy to hear in the culminating 'E.G.U' (Elgar himself). This was balanced by the ode to Lady Mary Lygon in the penultimate variation, where Elgar hauntingly evokes an image of his secret beloved leaving on a ship: we clearly discerned in the timpani the soft throb of the engines as she pulls away from the shore.