Lights, camera, action! Sitting in front of a screen to review a livestream performance for the first time gives you the illusion of being in the film director’s chair. You are potentially your own master of ceremonies: you can snap your fingers and cut sound and vision at a stroke. Or simply lean back and let the entire crew get on with things.

Midori plays Beethoven with the RSNO
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

But that’s where the problems start. I have to come clean at the outset: for me there are very few who have come close to the great Brian Large in supporting outstanding performances through aesthetically pleasing and musically satisfying visual direction. Watching the latest Royal Scottish National Orchestra concert online I was constantly distracted by the flurry of different camera angles: the eye had hardly registered one orchestral principal or section before the next switch in focus. It was all very democratic to be sure: virtually all the players got a look-in individually, but the entire ensemble was rarely shown playing together. It’s not just rapid tempi that can leave listeners breathless. 

Attention also needs to be paid to the staging of such events. The surroundings, even with pink and blue-tinged lighting, were somewhat clinical, with the wood-and-metal music-stands dominating the shots. When the soloist in the frame has to compete with tripods in the background and masking tape covering up sound cables, something is sadly awry. It is very welcome to see our musicians playing again, albeit without an audience, but more needs to be done to make this a truly rewarding experience.

The star of the evening was undoubtedly Midori. Clad in in a night-blue gown studded with rhinestones, her slender frame expressed the music with a high degree of physical involvement but without the slightest suggestion of histrionics. And what magical delights she uncovered in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which Joseph Joachim called “the greatest, the most uncompromising” of all German fiddle concertos. From her very first entry, after a powerful orchestral introduction finely shaped by the RSNO and Thomas Søndergård, there was a questioning quality to the discourse. Adopting a very flexible tempo and with a tone that moved effortlessly from the muscular and athletic to the beguilingly soft and dreamy, she developed the musical argument in perfect partnership with the wind principals. Søndergård watched her like a hawk and he and his players gave judicious support throughout.

Thomas Søndergård conducts the RSNO
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

In the central Larghetto the aristocratic quality of Midori’s solo line caught the ear, the emotion always coming from and through the music and never sounding superimposed. Each statement of the spirited hunting tune in the Finale was subtly varied with colours that radiated pure joy. The cadenza was very fleet-footed and passionate, demonstrating not just here that this is anything but an austerely classical concerto. It has a strongly beating heart. 

Sadly, Søndergård had little personal to say about Beethoven’s First Symphony. There were few concessions to period practice apart from a pair of natural trumpets, and the use of vibrato in the rather reverberant acoustic meant that rhythms were not always clearly defined. In mood the work emerged all light and sunny to be sure, the woodwind providing the warp to the weft of the strings, but not much wit was on display or impishness in the slow introduction to the Finale. Dramatic touches were largely confined to moments of revolutionary fizz like the big timpani roll at the end of the first movement. This was one of those occasions when the concerto was far more memorable than the symphony.

This performance was reviewed from the RSNO's video stream