Decca IDEAS about how to play baroque music according to historical principles are, thankfully, less doctrinaire than they used to be. Players of the modern violin, for example, show a freedom that was entirely absent three decades ago in the way they are able to pick and choose elements of baroque bowing style, ornamentation and so forth. There can be a downside, however. Nicola Benedetti has already achieved much. Having graduated from the Yehudi Menuhin School, the 25-year-old Scottish violinist of Italian extraction was awarded a $1.78 million contract in 2004 to record six albums with Universal Music Group, which takes in Decca. She also has received two honorary doctorates from Scottish universities. In her fifth disc, Italia, Benedetti moves from her usual territory of the romantic era into the Italian baroque. She switches to a baroque bow but otherwise sticks to her modern-strung Stradivarius. It is a mixed success. She plays with an enlivening friskiness that gives real spark to concertos by Tartini, Veracini and Vivaldi. Phrasing is neat and vibrato controlled well. Summer from
The Four Seasons has bite and eloquence. All the good work is undone, though, when Benedetti reverts to a generic modern style in two Vivaldi arias. She explains in the sleeve notes that for these she chose a more vocal manner rather than a violinistic baroque style, but the result sounds disruptive. Stylistically further behind is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under conductor Christian Curnyn. It probes at 18th-century style but sounds bland and half-hearted.