Edinburgh Academy Junior School

“Hey ho, the wind and the rain”. Shakespeare might have welcomed a downpour during Twelfth Night, but for A Midsummer Night’s Dream he’s more likely to have wished for something comparable to a summer’s day. That wasn’t to be on Wednesday, as the earlier of two performances by the RSNO of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to the latter play played almost entirely in an accompanying rainstorm.

That’s the risk this Festival, where concerts are effectively under canvas therefore exposed to the niceties of the Scottish weather. In the end, it dampened neither the performance, which flowed with seamless momentum, nor our own enjoyment of it. If anything, RSNO music director Thomas Søndergård’s flexible insight opened our eyes fully to the utter exuberance of Mendelssohn’s musical imagination and sophistication.

This wasn’t just about the music, of course, though with the RSNO in such receptive form there was no escaping the central role it played, striking up the anticipatory joys of the magical Overture before unfolding a musical narrative that shifted effortlessly between autonomous evocation and supportive underscore. Little risk of the well-worn Wedding March sounding hackneyed. It was as it should be: bright, breezy and fresh as a daisy. 

The Nocturne glowed, the Dance of Clowns frolicked, the Scherzo captured the essential sparkle. And in those brief moments where Mendelssohn calls for singers, soloists Rowan Pierce and Kathryn Rudge were a sepulchral delight, backed by selected offstage voices from the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. 

But key to the success was actor Dame Harriet Walter, whose narration was a masterclass in  theatrical poise, a compelling stylishness that required no histrionics, just force of personality and instinct for perfect timing. She and Søndergård worked in perfect harmony. The weather may have had mischief in mind, but mischief has its part to play in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Like Puck it comes in unexpected guises.
Ken Walton