The Scottish Chamber Orchestra start their Beethoven symphonic cycle on brilliant form

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven: Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Kevin John Edusei (conductor), City Halls, Glasgow, 22.11.2019. (GT)

Kevin John Edusei (c) Marco Borggreve

Beethoven – Symphony No.1 in C major, Op 21, Symphony No.3 in E flat major, Op 55 ‘Eroica’

This season, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven by programming all nine symphonies. This was the first of four concerts between November and April 2020 which features four different conductors. The orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor Emmanuel Krivine was indisposed, and in his place the German conductor Kevin John Edusei stepped in at late notice to assume leadership of this Beethoven evening.

Edusei took the opening bars of the First Symphony at almost a martial pace, yet in the Adagio molto section he made the transition to a rather songful theme, and the upbeat idiom was reinforced by enthusiastically stirring playing in the Allegro con brio. The Andante cantabile con moto was adorned by some beautiful orchestral playing, especially by the woodwind, and notably the flute of Fiona Kelly. The natural brass of four horns and two trumpets was especially fine, with some marvellously poetic playing In the Menuetto highlighting the classicism of Beethoven’s music. The Allegro molto e vivace provided some spectacularly exhilarating strings playing with vibrato, and the grand opening of the finale, led to meticulous tempi by Edusei in the Adagio, before racing in a brightly upbeat style – brimming throughout the orchestra – and closing with lively and joyous vivacity. This most classical of Beethoven’s symphonies was well-judged in structure and dynamics by the tall, somewhat elegant, conductor whose precise gestures and somewhat majestic bearing offered us a very complete performance.

In the previous concert setting under the new Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev there were four basses at the back, behind the woodwind section, with divided violins, and the cellos and violas in front of the woodwind. It appears that this is now the accepted set-up for the orchestra, itself an interesting concept as it allows a quite distinct and improved sound picture.

The ‘Eroica’, with its abruptly dramatic first bars – followed by the main theme – demonstrated that the orchestra was on top form. Despite the late switch in the conductor, they produced a marvellously fine performance, each musician intent on giving of their best – so much so – it all seemed as if they were so immaculately well prepared that the conductor seemed to be following them. With the limited rehearsal time, the orchestra was apparently taking care of the playing themselves having decided the tempi beforehand. In the clarinet and bassoon playing – and especially in the marvellous strings – the great funeral march was very impressive, superbly performed.

The Scherzo witnessed outstanding ensemble playing and notably, some beautiful intonation from the flutes, the flamboyance of which was matched by the intensely dusky hues of Ursula Leveaux’s bassoon, and lustrous playing by Robin Williams’s oboe. The strings were exceptionally virtuosic, and the trio section – featuring three splendidly golden-hued obbligato horns – was heavenly. There was a memorable delightful passage, in the third variation, heard on leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore’s violin, along with that of Gordon Bragg, Florian Peelman’s viola, and Philip Higham’s cello, in a charmingly performed chamber-like section. The final culmination was fittingly accomplished in a most celebratory, indeed heroically, grand climax.

It may be the case that in the event of a conductor dropping out – and a less well-known one taking their place – can kick start the replacement’s career. That was the case in several concerts in recent years, notably when Elim Chan took over a concert by Neeme Järvi with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and indeed as Emelyanychev did two seasons ago replacing Robin Ticciati at short notice. Unfortunately, with the brief time for rehearsal, making an appraisal of this German conductor – who has made an impact in Europe recently – is challenging, however it would be good to see him here again with more time allowed for preparation.

Gregor Tassie

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