Lalishri is a new work written for Nicola Benedetti, and inspired by the 14th-century Hindu poet and saint Lalla Yogishwari, who discovered her spiritual core and danced naked around Kashmir. Benedetti apparently prepared for it by playing Indian ragas in the dark. She explores John Tavener’s evocations of spiritual bliss and hypnotic dance with energy and poised beauty, and has assimilated some of the idioms of Indian performance, its note-bending and portamentos. The five movements, an ‘Intro’ and four ‘Cycles’, are built up in sometimes extended sections of vividly contrasting character, basically slow and ecstatically serene or fast and motoric. Benedetti does Tavener proud, bringing profound religious intensity to the slow-moving melodies, sometimes little more than the top line of a harmonic progression, and crispness and superb accuracy to his moto perpetuo dances and musical friezes.
The short Dhyana (meaning contemplation in Sanskrit) was written as a companion piece for Lalishi, and is similarly imbued with the spirit of India. In it Benedetti once more conjures stillness and ecstasy. The other Tavener work on the CD, Song for Athene, is the composer’s own arrangement of the choral work that came to fame when it was performed at the funeral of Princess Diana, and Benedetti plays it with appropriate mystical gravitas.
To Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, which opens the disc and seems a distant memory by the end of it, Benedetti brings a beguiling mixture of lyrical freedom and intimacy. She plays wonderfully throughout. The recording is warm and clear.