A welcome wealth of streamed music now floods our computers every day, as a glance at Bachtrack amply illustrates, with most top ensembles and opera houses now having a digital presence online, offering some delightful respite from the grey world outside, still in the grip of the pandemic. But a streamed concert is not the same as a live event. For all the technical brilliance that brings music into our homes, it can rarely replace the shared thrill of being in the hall, just feet away from living, breathing talent.

Nicola Benedetti and the OAE
© Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

The more successful streams, such as the Royal Opera’s recent 4/4, have been framed, designed and filmed specifically for those at home, even though a socially-distanced audience was lucky enough to be in the auditorium. Merely putting out a film of a previous concert, however well played, may not be enough to keep viewers gripped.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launched its digital platform OAE Player earlier this month with Roderick Williams performs Bach and Handel –  an original concept, with the baritone directing the orchestra while singing. Performing in the round, he sang into the orchestra, not out into the auditorium, an intimate experience specifically aimed at the online audience. 

Last night, the OAE followed up with another concert (available until 19 December), but this time one recorded in front of a socially-distanced audience at Snape Maltings. Entitled Nicola Benedetti: Seeing Double, the film repeats the programme performed at the BBC Proms in September – double concertos by Vivaldi and Bach and a concerto grosso in D minor by the English Baroque composer Charles Avison.

Benedetti combines technical dexterity and cantabile tone with some playful wit in Vivaldi’s D major concerto for two violins RV 513, alongside Rodolfo Richter, particularly in the joyful finale. There’s some really gutsy playing in the D minor double concerto RV 514, with Kati Debretzeni taking the first desk, but the concerto in A minor for two oboes RV 536 (soloists Katharina Spreckelsen and Sarah Humphrys) is heavy-going, not because the playing is lacklustre; it suffers because three Vivaldi concertos in one lump is too much to bear.

Kati Debretzeni, Nicola Benedetti and the OAE
© Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Editing a live event into a film removes all those natural breaks where the concertgoer can gather their thoughts, read the programme and reset the brain for the next concerto. Merely putting up a caption and launching into the next item leaves barely time to breathe. Interpolating them with some brief comments, perhaps from Jonathan Cohen, who directs from the keyboard, or the soloists (Benedetti is a skilled communicator) would have added context, contrast and warmth.

The Bach concerto in D minor for two violins BWV 1043 (Debretzeni and Benedetti again) should be a highlight, but insecure intonation in the first and second movements mars what could have been a fiery and uplifting performance. Right at the close, though, is a delightful treat, the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazar, complete with stirring drumming. This piece is a perfect fit for Snape: Benjamin Britten chose it as the theme for his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. That’s the sort of cheerful nugget of information that could have been included to transform this concert for a wider viewing audience.

This performance was reviewed from the OAE Player video stream