sat 25/05/2024

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emelyanychev online review – versatile virtuosity from Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emelyanychev online review – versatile virtuosity from Edinburgh

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Emelyanychev online review – versatile virtuosity from Edinburgh

The SCO’s music director leads from the harpsichord and accompanies on the piano

Maxim Emelyanychev accompanies cellist Philip Higham in Bruch's 'Kol nidrei'

Seated at the harpsichord, Maxim Emelyanychev introduces this concert in charmingly fractured English.

“Hello from Queen’s Hall in Edimbourg, today with chamber group of musicians from Scottish Chamber Orchestra…” But he falters, the camera cuts away, and there follows a mumbled digression on whether the first piece is actually by Hasse, or maybe Richter.  

Poised with their instruments, the assembled string quintet looks puzzled, and then the music begins, and it’s clear that whatever skill Emelyanychev (pictured below) may lack as an orator is more than outweighed by his skill as a musician. Hasse’s Adagio and Fugue opens rapturously with a highly expressive descending theme driven by insistently repeated notes. On period instruments, with no vibrato, the rich harmonisation is underscored by the precise, biscuity sound of the harpsichord. It is simply gorgeous. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s by Hasse or anyone else – the programme note describes Johann Adolph Hasse as one of those giants of 18th Century music who despite writing over 63 operas and 90 cantatas has been all but forgotten. Maxim EmelyanychevThis concert was filmed last month in an inevitably empty Queen’s Hall, musicians widely spaced out on an expanded stage, the audience stalls and famously uncomfortable church pews in near darkness. After the melancholic Adagio, a brisk Fugue leads us to the next piece, the D minor Harpsichord Concerto by Haydn, with Emelyanychev, the SCO’s principal conductor, as soloist.

This sets off at a cracking pace, glittery and scintillating, the five strings punching above their weight, bold accentuation driving the music forward. You do end up wondering if a full orchestra is really necessary for baroque concertos. Emelyanychev is a persuasive soloist, making the most of some expansive cadenzas, but something about the way he leans into the instrument and coaxes individual notes suggests that he is maybe more of a pianist. The pace never falters, but despite its sunny disposition and relative familiarity I found this a less enthralling performance than the Hasse that preceded it. 

There’s no “interval” in a video concert but for the second half Emelyanychev does indeed return as accompanist on the piano, the stage reset with a gleaming Steinway. Principal cellist Philip Higham introduces the next piece: Bruch’s somewhat introspective Kol nidrei, which he describes as a sort of rhapsody on two Hebrew themes. In this lovely performance all the frantic bustle of Haydn’s harpsichord falls away in favour of deeply romantic expression. For once Emelyanychev takes his time, giving Higham space to let the meandering cello line unfold. Nikita NaumovThere’s another change of mood for the final piece in this concert, Bottesini’s Grand Duo Concertante, introduced by Nikita Naumov, double bass (pictured above), joined here by violin Benjamin Marquise Gilmore and with Emelyanychev once again as accompanist. This is an unashamedly virtuosic showpiece that puts both stringed instruments through a somewhat predictable series of high wire acts before coming to a rousing finale. The violin’s pirouettes are hair-raising enough but Bottesini, patron saint of double-bassists, goes the extra mile to create extraordinary effects high on the fingerboard with ghostly harmonics and finger-stretching arpeggios. The whole piece has the confected air of one of those fantasies based on popular operatic tunes – not great music but great fun. 

Of course a concert like this would not normally be programmed, were it not for the constraints of lockdown. Viewed on YouTube, the integrity of a concert is prey to digital distraction – no sooner had it finished than my computer started playing a vintage film of a Welsh mountain railway, swiftly followed by Bruch’s violin concerto – such are the fruits of algorithms. But even if a concert like this risks being swamped by the sheer volume of alternative entertainment, it will not be wasted if we take some of the flexibility and adaptability that musicians have demonstrated online and place it back on the live platform in front of an audience.

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