Maxim Emelyanychev begins his SCO conductorship with a blazing ‘Jupiter’ Symphony

18/11/2019

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Philippe Hersant, Prokofiev, Mozart: Carolin Widmann (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor), Glasgow City Halls, 15.11.2019 (GT)

Maxim Emelyanychev (c) Ryan Buchanan

Philippe Hersant Five Pieces for Orchestra (UK premiere)

Prokofiev – Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63

Mozart – Symphony No.41 in C major, K551 ‘Jupiter’

This was the first concert by the orchestra’s new Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev following an interregnum of two years since the departure of Robin Ticciati. It was ironic that it was the young 29-year-old Russian who took over a concert of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major symphony following Ticciati’s cancellation and on the basis of which Emelyanychev was appointed to his current position. His entrance was a brisk walk to the podium before expressing words of pleasure at being in Glasgow and hoping that everyone would share in their success and happy music-making at future concerts.

The opening work by the French composer Philippe Hersant followed upon the two premieres last week by Anna Clyne underlining the orchestra’s commitment to contemporary music. In the composer’s words, ‘The first piece is mechanical: squared rhythms, repeated forms, ostinato…’ and it lacked any clearly expressed ideas. The second movement centered around a beautiful cello solo with perky woodwind evoking Schoenberg’s own Five Pieces. The brief third piece was cheerful, not without some dissonance, and hints of Sati. The fourth piece is an orchestration of Hersant’s Elégie for string quartet in a threnody of funereal sadness, followed by a dream-like sequence. The fifth piece reprises music from the opening. There was little originality in the composer’s music, often sounding like routine film music.

The German violinist Carolin Widmann appeared here last season with a memorable performance of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto. In the first bars, Prokofiev’s delightful folk tune opened on solo violin and, interplaying with the orchestra, there was some lively music-making, and soon a gloriously buoyant, life-affirming idea on the violin was superbly buoyed by the horns. Registering an almost heavenly moment, the accompaniment by Emelyanychev showed there was a meeting of minds, bringing out almost perfect harmonies and colours. In the second movement, the violin’s dreamy childlike idea emphasized the lyricism and was countered by a glorious melody on the French horns. Emelyanychev was demonstrative in his conducting, constantly coaxing his musicians to give that little more in playing, and in the finale, the orchestra provided a beautifully executed culmination – with a Spanish hue. As an encore, the conductor and soloist performed Faure’s Berceuse, a performance worth the entry price alone.

The Mozart symphony allowed us to fully grasp the gifts of Emelyanychev as an interpreter. Everything in the initial burst of energy here seemed sober and finely judged. The conductor placed the basses behind the woodwind with divided violins and low strings in front of them. Emelyanychev is very expressive in his movements, and naturally, as a pianist, he expresses with his hands and fingers – and no baton – moving towards his players and constantly impelling more from them. The young Russian has beautiful arm movements, elegant and precise, and he really knows how to conduct: it was clear that this was a different Mozart from what we have heard before – fresh, lively and almost contemporary. The second movement was gentle, beautifully played, bringing out all the magnificence of this symphony. In the third movement, Emelyanychev proved immensely exciting to watch. He shares with his mentor Rozhdestvensky the demonstrative ‘windmill’ style of constantly waving arms, almost like a traffic policeman. In the finale, it was so musical, mellifluous, and brilliant, here was a tremendous performance with all of the glory of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony brought out. The final bars were met by a storm of applause, and it looks as if this orchestra will be having some great nights in the hands of this exciting and brilliant young conductor.

Gregor Tassie

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