Some entertainment formats seem so obviously successful and popular that you wonder why they didn't come into existence much sooner. Certainly the exploratory idea of Naked Classics has existed in the form of Radio 3's Discovering Music for many years. However, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra series features, in addition to presenter and live orchestra, lovingly put-together, attractive multimedia content on a huge screen, suspended above the musicians. Hosting anything from pictures of the composer and family, through visual jokes, to musical notation of key themes, this dimension makes for a truly 21st-century experience.

Adrian Prabava © Yves Petit
Adrian Prabava
© Yves Petit

Being my third such event, I was beginning to notice more detail in the craft of the highly personable presenter, Paul Rissman. For example, he sits out of the limelight during orchestral illustrations, allowing the eye to gravitate towards the conductor and musicians. However, he is on his feet before the final notes subside ready for a seamless pick-up. This fast-paced delivery leaves no time for the mind to wander. I noticed another very nice touch. At one point in his script Rissman used the term 'this movement' and, for a moment, there appeared at the bottom of the screen's content '1st Movement'. This little navigational reminder – in a format which necessarily jumps around – felt like the touch of a natural communicator.

Rissman pointed out that, although Mendelssohn might possibly not make it today into many people's top five (or even ten) composers, he was, in his short lifetime, the most famous composer in the world. This point touched me. During the orchestral introduction to the evening I was immediately struck by the infectious mix of energy and elegance in the orchestration and the compositional economy. I found myself wondering why I have neglected this man's music so much.

Compositional economy featured in the analysis of Mendelssohn's Symphony no. 3 in A minor, "Scottish" (1842). Fetchingly coloured highlights – linking notated pitches to a piano keyboard – heightened appreciation of the work's musical DNA. Icons of featured instruments graced the screen's edges, allowing the first-time-listener accelerated familiarity with musical terrain. This was at its best in the second movement, where highlighting outlined the main theme's pentatonic constitution. Explained as accounting for the Scottish lilt, it reminded me, to my shame, of Nellie the Elephant. I could, however, see and hear the point. Similar exploration of the finale allowed us to see how much musical material Mendelssohn generated from the stramash between two key themes. This was comically aided in an episode where members of the orchestra were invited to stand any time they played either motif. The resulting tumult could have cast the Glenn Miller Band in a sedentary light.

As always, members of the orchestra were engaged in conversation: tonight, about how Scottish the piece felt to them. William Chandler (Associate Leader of RSNO, but effectively leader this evening) was first up. I've heard Chandler speak on a few occasions and was unaware of his American origins. The symphony's Germanic qualities struck him more, although he added that some of the material reminded him of American music of Scottish provenance. Conductor, Adrian Prabava, on his first to Scotland, remarked that he was learning a great deal from the RSNO about this debatably Scottish work.

A Naked Classics second half features an uninterrupted performance. The screen remains in place to announce each successive movement. Each graphic bears the movement's principal theme. And here lies my only gripe regarding the format. Being a relatively transparent romantic work – of classical elegance – there are quite obvious and contrasting secondary themes in Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony . Yet these do not feature on screen. During the performance the screen is surely either an aid or a distraction. I believe the former to be the case and would argue that many might benefit from seeing a depiction of contrasting thematic material as it arrives.

The performance, however, was excellent, the wonderful orchestration aided by excellent balance and ensemble. My personal highlight was a lovely, timeless duet passage, in the otherwise boisterous closing movement, for clarinet and bassoon – very sensitively played by Josef Pacewicz and David Hubbard respectively.

The response of the sizeable audience suggested that all had enjoyed the evening as much as I had. If there is a resonant extra-musical overtone from the evening, it might be the following: this piece, conceived in Scotland by a German Jewish Lutheran and composed in Italy, had been presented by a Scottish-German presenter, performed by an orchestra populated by a rainbow of nationalities, who were expressively led by an Indonesian conductor currently residing in Berlin. This illustration of our new Europe feels, despite current economic straits, more positive than some previous incarnations.

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