Angela Hewitt played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 with members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Angela Hewitt played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 with members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra © Ryan Buchanan/Edinburgh International Festival

The summer’s music festivals have fallen into two camps. A few that are lucky, or determined, have managed to rescue at least truncated versions of their original programmes, usually in front of socially distanced audiences, sometimes in the open air. The rest have resorted to greater or lesser offerings online.

Among the latter group, two have made an outstanding effort. Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has just reached the close of a full online festival, some of it taken from the archives, but most of it new. The Edinburgh International Festival is still in full swing this week and all its material is free to view online on its YouTube channel

The offering from Edinburgh, under the title “My Light Shines On”, is building up nicely. An initial selection of filmed performances has grown, especially with chamber music — easier to produce under restrictive coronavirus rules. There are no audiences, but the filming largely disguises the emptiness of the halls. 

Scottish musicians who did not appear in the earlier webcasts are getting their turn. The Dunedin Consort, in particular, puts in an appearance with a small-scale instrumental (no choir) programme of Leonarda, Leclair and Bach. Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt is joined by members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a lively performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1.

One novelty is an episode of Lawrence Power’s “Lockdown Commissions”. From a hill overlooking Edinburgh, Power makes his way to the Queen’s Hall, where he picks up his viola and plays the solo Objets trouvés, a new work by Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. It is modernist in cut, but not unapproachable. 

The chamber music recitals offer a broad conspectus. Seated in a properly distanced arrangement, eight members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra offer a performance of Mendelssohn’s ever-uplifting Octet, which makes up in energy what it lacks in tonal beauty. 

Tenor Nicky Spence with Malcolm Martineau on piano
Tenor Nicky Spence with Malcolm Martineau on piano © Ryan Buchanan/Edinburgh International Festival

A recital by Scottish pianist Steven Osborne makes the most of the intimacy that comes from playing to an audience sitting individually at home. Softly spoken Schubert is followed by non-flashy Rachmaninov, including a transcription of the “Nunc Dimittis” from the All-Night Vigil, and an inward-looking performance of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, No. 32, Op. 111. 

In his 250th anniversary year, Beethoven has a prominent presence. A cello and piano recital by Philip Higham and Susan Tomes includes a modestly genial performance of his Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 102 No. 5, but is more interesting for its other items, especially three pieces by educationalist Nadia Boulanger, which remind us that we should hear her music more often.

Finally, there is a vivid song recital by Scottish tenor Nicky Spence and pianist Malcolm Martineau. The programme is all settings of Shakespeare. It includes the usual Quilter, but also rarer Britten, Haydn and Wolf, three intriguing songs by Alex Woolf and a glitzy cabaret encore by Peter Dickinson, all sung with intelligence or panache, as required, by Spence. This is the pick of the bunch.


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