Music review: SCO Digital: Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8, filmed at Leith Theatre

The opening concert in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s digital season is a wonderfully moody, noirish affair, writes David Kettle

SCO Digital: Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8, filmed at Leith Theatre ****

Online filmed performances are, of course, a legacy of the Covid pandemic. But whereas a couple of years back we might have tolerated them out of necessity, they now offer an illuminating counterpoint to conventional live concerts – and also handily serve to send out an ensemble’s work to a wider national and international audience.

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And in the case of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s current digital season – which has just kicked off – they also show just how far we’ve come in terms of production values. The opening film – featuring Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet – is a wonderfully moody, noirish affair, all high-contrast lighting and grainy imagery. Captured in the appropriately cavernous-feeling interior of Leith Theatre, the film provides a sense of isolation for the four SCO string players – violinists Marcus Barcham Stevens and Kana Kawashima, violist Felix Tanner and cellist Su-a Lee – that’s very much in keeping with Shostakovich’s dark, sometimes despairing music. There’s little established vocabulary for this kind of classical performance film, but director Mauro Silva has come up with a simple but compelling concept, one that focuses closely on the players’ intense performances – sometimes quite claustrophobically – but with no sense of overplaying things for the cameras.

From left to right, Marcus Barcham Stevens, Kana Kawashima, Felix Taner and Su-a Lee

Indeed, in many ways it’s an ideal way to encounter chamber music – close up, from almost within the ensemble, and with camerawork focusing in on solos and material passed from player to player. And it’s a brisk, no-nonsense account that the four SCO players deliver: no wallowing in misery here, but instead a message of despair and defiance conveyed through movingly shaped melodies and crisply articulated textures. Their sense of fluid movement and restraint makes the piece feel all the more poignant – even if, perhaps, their segue into the enigmatic drone of the fourth movement feels a little hurried. Nonetheless, this is a remarkably powerful film of an authentically raw, honest performance – catch it via the SCO website before it disappears on 4 February.