Some sunshine from the last Royal Scottish National Orchestra concert of 2020

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven: Francesca Dego (violin/director), Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Cornelius Meister (conductor). Streamed from the RSNO Centre Glasgow, 18.12.2020. (SRT)

Cornelius Meister conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Mozart – Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail; Violin Concerto No.5

Beethoven – Symphony No.7

2020 has been a pretty tough year, and in the UK the darkest part of the winter appears to be drawing in at the same time as a new wave of COVID-19. Might as well end the year with some sunshine then, as this last Royal Scottish National Orchestra concert of 2020 did.

Some Mediterranean sunshine – Turkish, to be precise – featured in the two Mozart works featured here. It lurks only just below the surface in the final rondo of Violin Concerto No.5, and it gleams in the brightest glare of the Seraglio overture. It sounded great here, too, helped by some zingy percussion and spicy piccolo, but also by some raspy natural trumpets that also added colour to the Beethoven.

A Mozart overture is a fairly easy ride for most conductors, and if Cornelius Meister steered the orchestra effectively enough between the fast and slow sections, then overall he didn’t break much ground, or a sweat. If I was feeling unkind I could say the same about his take on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which proceeded extremely effectively and very amiably, but without much to frighten the horses until a daringly fast finale. Even that, though, seemed to veer into something noticeably slower in some sections before finding a new gear again. It’s a shame: Meister is a conductor I really like, and I have really enjoyed his work in Scotland. I guess you can hardly blame him for failing to work up some raw passion when there is no audience in the room.

It didn’t seem to bother the orchestra, who ended their Beethoven year with a performance of the symphony that was full of energy and edge in the outer movements, but with some lovely legato wind solos and an edge of drama in the Allegretto. They also played just as well without a conductor in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5, ostensibly directed from the violin by soloist Francesca Dego, but she didn’t seem to do a lot during the tuttis, so perhaps we should be crediting Leader Sharon Roffman instead. Anyway, Dego managed an impressive lift to the sound when she entered in the first movement, and there was a noticeable spark during the Turkish interlude in the finale too.

Even though I get used to it each week, I still can’t quite reconcile myself to what remains, to my ears, a slightly boxy sound to these films from the orchestra’s Glasgow home. I guess it is also an unavoidable side-effect of having the players socially distance. However, as my motto has been throughout the pandemic, it’s better than nothing, and we should instead be rejoicing that orchestras across Scotland (and beyond) have found a way of existing through a year most musicians would probably rather forget. They only have four more concerts left in their digital season, which runs until the end of February. And what then?…

Well, as the Christmas break comes, and we all look to 2021 with some optimism, let us hope that this time next year we are looking back on this as a blip on all of our timelines and that we are basking in the warmth of the shared experience again. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and here’s to a much happier New Year.

You can find details of the RSNO Digital Season if you click here, and you can watch their family-friendly Christmas concert for free (click here).

Simon Thompson

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