United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2021  – Mozart, Thuille: Maxim Emelyanychev (piano), woodwind principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Old College Quad, 13.8.2021. (SRT)
Mozart – Quintet for Piano and Winds K.452
Thuille – Sextet for Piano and Winds
Anyone who has been anywhere near the Scottish music scene in the last few years will already know what a cracking team Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra make. Nobody who saw their Mozart Prom last month can be in any doubt of it, either. These musicians work brilliantly together: they communicate symbiotically and they strike sparks off each other in concert.
And if that is true for an orchestra then it’s every bit as true for chamber music. As well as being their Principal Conductor, Emelyanychev is a gifted pianist and chamber musician, too, and some of the best lockdown concerts the SCO did showcased him with some of the orchestra’s principals. This morning recreated that magic with one very well-known chamber piece and one that, to me at least, was a new discovery.
If this team is a known quantity in Mozart then that doesn’t detract from the gorgeous blend they managed to produce for the composer’s great E-flat quintet. Euphonious and well-matched, they sang Mozart’s phrases with a wonderful sense of togetherness, while also allowing room for individuality to shine through. Maximiliano Martín’s clarinet and Robin Williams’s oboe sang with the mellifluousness of operatic soloists, and I loved the nutty bassoon and rasp of the natural horn that complemented them.
Emelyanychev himself cut an elfin figure at the piano, drawing on his acres of experience with historically informed performance to make some subtle ornamentations on the repeats, and I loved the way they played the finale with a combination of jollity and pomposity, the voices blending in the cadenza to underline the composer’s delicate counterpoint.
Ludwig Thuille, on the other hand, was a new name to me. A contemporary and friend of Richard Strauss, Thuille’s music was, apparently, well regarded in his lifetime, though his Sextet is almost the only thing that carries his name today. I hadn’t come across it before I saw it on this concert’s programme, but it is such a strikingly good listen that it led me into reflecting why, when a composer writes something of this quality, some one-hit composers are almost forgotten while others (like, say, Ponchielli or Giordano) have stuck in our consciousness. It seems Thuille got a pretty raw deal from posterity, because his Sextet is a real winner.
Thuille may have been a friend of Strauss, but the composer that came to my mind most often while listening was Brahms. The gorgeous, flowing opening has all the hallmarks of Brahms’s autumnal chamber style, especially with its glowing horn line, and the flute acting as a soprano floating over the top gives the line-up of instruments a particularly distinctive sound. The slow movement’s flowing main theme was led by sensational horn playing and picked up by the other voices like a shared cantabile, while the finale had a delicate quickfire sensibility with a touch of Mendelssohnian fairy music to it, leading to a jolly, rousing ending. Thuille’s Sextet is definitely my discovery so far of this year’s EIF and, as played by this team, I’m already looking forward to hearing it again.
The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and will be available here until the middle of September.
The 2021 Edinburgh International Festival takes place until Sunday 29th August in venues across the city. For full details click here.