After the opening concert, I didn't have to wait long to see how resilient the Edinburgh International Festival’s new tents are to rain. About an hour before Patricia Kopatchinskaja stepped out onto the stage, the heavens opened and a torrential downpour began. It lasted for the rest of the day, and was the third performer in this concert, bouncing off the transparent plastic roof of the tent in Old College Quad, at least providing extra visual diversion as it cascaded down the sides.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Joonas Ahonen
© EIF | Ryan Buchanan

You don’t need to be a trained acoustician to know that heavy rain on plastic creates quite a noise and, sadly, for much of the concert it was louder than the performers. That’s nobody’s fault, of course, just bad luck, and the EIF still deserve three cheers for coming up with such an effective solution for accommodating their audience in a pandemic. However, there’s something faintly hilarious (or do I mean tragic?) about having one of the world’s most acclaimed violinists on stage and hardly being able to hear her.

Many of the emotional and dynamic extremes Kopatchinskaja is famed for were almost completely lost. Beginning Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 7 in C minor with a prowling pianissimo makes perfect dramatic sense in a concert hall, but much less so when the ensuing crescendo competes with a rain storm to be heard. A shame, because what I could make out was really exciting. Kopatchinskaja and Joonas Ahonen played effectively with the contrasting moods of the two themes in the sonata’s opening movement and maintained a strident sense of drama throughout. The light-hearted Scherzo was a brief interlude before the urgent intensity of the finale, which snaked its way to its conclusion with energy and power.

Joonas Ahonen and Patricia Kopatchinskaja
© EIF | Ryan Buchanan

They were every bit as focused for the “Kreutzer” Sonata, Kopatchinskaja keeping up a gently questioning tone for her solo opening before launching into a carefully nuanced main theme. The central variations were, by turns, lyrical, skittish and introspective, even hymn-like towards the end, and there was a touch of rocket fuel to the finale, the melody scampering between violin and piano while the two soloists seemed to be throwing the phrases towards one another.

Joonas Ahonen was a late replacement for the previously advertised Fazıl Say, who isn’t the first artist in this year’s EIF to have his plans scuppered by Covid-related travel restrictions. Ahonen was by no means a poor second, though; he was an assertive presence throughout, definitely the equal of the violinist, and they had clearly established an effective rapport. That was particularly apparent in Schoenberg’s Phantasy where Kopatchinskaja brought to sparkling life the broken textures in the violin line, while Ahonen’s piano chords seemed to lay down stepping stones which she could either tread on or avoid as she saw fit.

Both artists deserved their hearty ovation for carrying on so bravely in the face of such unfriendly elements. Save a wry look skywards and Kopatchinskaja’s panicked grab for her music stand to avert an interfering gust of wind, both artists pressed on gamely as though it were all in a day’s work.