Maxim Emelyanychev leads a brilliant SCO performance of music spanning three centuries

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Adams, Bach, Mozart: Stephanie Gonley (violin), André Cebrián (flute), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor). City Halls, Glasgow, 3.12.2021. (GT)

Maxim Emelyanychev conducts the SCO (c) Ryan Buchanan

AdamsShaker Loops

Mozart – Movements from Serenade No.10 in B-flat, K.361, ‘Gran Partita’

Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major, BWV 1050

This concert was originally programmed in March this year, however, unfortunately it succumbed to the global pandemic. Interestingly, three works by John Adams were scheduled in the 2020-2021 season, and there are more to be heard later in the recently announced Spring season by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The inclusion in this programme of an early piece by Adams may seem wholly inappropriate with pieces by Mozart and Bach, yet there is a connection in the startling rhythmic pulse of the minimalist Shaker Loops with that of both the pieces from the classical and baroque periods as each work share a rhythmic momentum.

Dating from 1973, Adams’s piece was not immediately successful, however, through time, it has become one of his most popular works and helped establish him as a leading American composer. On stage, the strings were grouped in a semicircle around the conductor, and initially the battling racy theme opened on the first violins progressively transferred to the whole ensemble. Particularly notable was the pace and switching moods as a swinging idea emerged – then muted in sound – and there were outstanding solo passages from the cello of Philip Higham. Rather than appearing somewhat overlong and tedious, just watching the ever-busy Maxim Emelyanychev at work in driving his players on was a marvel while listening to these superbly gifted musicians.

Emelyanychev introduced the Mozart ‘Gran Partita’ to the audience before leaving the stage and watching from the upper gallery. The twelve wind players plus the double bass player Ciro Vigilante formed a semicircle with the lead taken by bassoon and clarinet alternately. For this programme, we heard the first, third, sixth and seventh movements from the ‘Gran Partita’ which it is claimed featured in the 1784 premiere. Certainly the playing in the opening Largo. Molto Allegro was out of this world with beautiful clarinet playing from Maximiliano Martin, and the bassoon of Cerys Ambrose-Evans, and in the rather dramatic opening, there was stunning brilliance from the oboe of Robin Williams. The drama continued into the Adagio, in which the clarinet of Martin, and Williams’s oboe together with the basset horn of William Stafford were tremendously exhilarating in their approximating singing soloists. While in the Theme and variations, the mood was buoyant especially from the oboe of Williams, and the mellifluous two basset horns of Stafford and Lawrence Gill in an entertaining interplay of ideas. In the Finale. Molto Allegro, the ensemble produced outstandingly brilliantly energetic musicmaking emphasising how completely Mozart adored the fashion of Harmoniemusik in Viennese life of the day. This was a superb performance, and for me the highlight of the evening.

For the main work in the programme, Emelyanychev returned to the stage leading from the harpsichord and sharing the role of soloist with Stephanie Gonley’s violin and André Cebrián’s flute in the opening Allegro. Much of the brilliance came from the flute and violin taking centre stage and playing with quite gorgeous virtuosity. Not to be outshone, Emelyanychev on the harpsichord resumed to finish off brilliantly with a masterly cadenza. In the Affettuoso, we heard more from Gonley on violin and again from Cebrián on flute, with Emelyanychev engaging in beautiful interactions in an intimate trio of consummate musicianship. In the closing Allegro, we heard exciting dynamic playing from all three in a bright gigue emphasising the rhythmic aspect of Bach’s music, and towards the close, this masterpiece was brought to a magnificent climax by Emelyanychev on the harpsichord.

As an encore, the ensemble performed the rarely heard Promenade by Bohuslav Martinů closing a superbly contrasting evening of music encompassing three ages of musical creativity. Despite the superb performance of Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, for me the Mozart piece was the revelation in which the orchestra transformed a piece composed for aristocratic occasions into a significant masterpiece set in glorious colours.

Gregor Tassie

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