Emelyanychev and Ibragimova inspire a magical musical farewell to the SCO season in Glasgow

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Prokofiev, Stravinsky: Alina Ibragimova (violinist), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor). City Halls, Glasgow, 13.5.2022 (GT)

Alina Ibragimova (violin) (c) Chris Christodoulou

BeethovenLeonore Overture No.3 in C major, Op.72b
Prokofiev – Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major, Op.19
StravinskyThe Firebird Suite (1945)

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra have long been one of the gems of Scotland’s music scene, yet when the young Russian Maxim Emelyanychev arrived here three years ago, a new stage in the ensemble’s life appeared – not only did the artistic and technical levels rise to a higher level, but a fresh repertoire emerged with music that the orchestra rarely performed before. Up to now, the only recording of this partnership is the Schubert Great C major symphony on Linn, so we need new recordings to ensure this relationship is set firmly for future generations to hear. It is to be hoped that the orchestra has already new releases in the pipeline.

Maxim Emelyanychev (c) Ryan Buchanan

It was even more striking that Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3 (which has long been in the orchestra’s repertoire) sounded here quite different, and indeed revolutionary in this conductor’s hands. It was like an explosion when the Beethoven overture burst upon us with a tremendous opening chord – fiercely dramatic before the prodigiously slow build-up on the strings created an almost magical anticipation adorned with some outstanding solos from the flute of Daniel Pailthorpe, and especially the wonderful natural horns led by Zoë Tweed. The consequent passages revealing Beethoven’s themes of liberation and freedom in the ascendant with the orchestra sounding quite magnificent with the first violins led by Sarah Kapustin on truly world-class form.

It was good to see two Russian musicians on stage together for the remaining programme of twentieth-century Russian music. Ibragimova opened the Andantino with an intimate inflective idea heard quietly against the violins, and, as the intensity developed, there rose a rather childlike idea from the woodwind which gathered pace. In the second movement (Scherzo: Vivacissimo) the mellifluous flute of Pailthorpe, and the dulcet toned clarinet of Maximiliano Martin heard against the violin pizzicato of the Russian violinist were revelatory, this in music demanding intensely difficult technique heard before a delightful folk tune emerges with some magical flute playing. In the third movement (Moderato – Allegro moderato) a vigorous Russian dance was energetically performed in a catchy superfast melody shared between soloists and the orchestra, creating a magical harmony. In the final passages, again the rather childlike idea was transformed into a beautifully lyrical one from the oboe of Robin Williams. The idea was picked up by Martin on the clarinet and by Cerys Ambrose-Evans on the bassoon leading to a build-up of themes, with delightful melody on the violin of Kapustin, leading to a thrilling passage shared between Ibragimova and the orchestra before the reprise of the enchanting childlike idea brought this marvellous piece to a close.

This orchestra has limited its repertoire of Stravinsky’s music to performances of the Symphony in C, Pulcinella, and his ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto in recent seasons, yet with the appointment of this brilliant young conductor, a new horizon has emerged. In last year’s largely abandoned season, the Pathetique Symphony and Scheherazade were programmed, so it was enlightening to hear this group of musicians performing one of Stravinsky’s finest scores, The Firebird. Emelyanychev has inspired some quite remarkable performances in what we regard as traditional repertoire by his bringing a different approach in both structure, orchestral textures and astonishing power whilst all mixed with brilliant virtuosity.

Of course it was the staging of this ballet as part of the Ballet Russes that transformed Stravinsky’s fortunes as a composer launching his long and successful career. Nicolai Myaskovsky was the first to acclaim him as a major prospect in Russian and world music from the score of The Firebird.

The musicians revelled in the gloriously kaleidoscopic Slavic colours of Stravinsky’s orchestral palette with its luxuriantly exotic idioms. From the opening Prelude, the colours and nuances of the orchestral playing were magnificent – there was some quite world-class playing in the especially fine contributions from the clarinet of Martin and the flute of Pailthorpe. The Dance of the Firebird, evoked darkness and mystery, with the rhythms pulsating excitedly, while in the following Dance of the Princesses – the oboe of Williams was magnificent in invoking an ancient folk song heard against the counter melody on the violins led by Kapustin. This was followed by a delightful passage of gracefully idyllic phrasing, interrupted by Kashchei the Immortal’s Infernal Dance of suitably wild rhythmic measures, and the Lullaby on the strings and woodwind was quite beautiful in its evocation of the night. One was taken aback by the often startling way in which Emelyanychev whipped up the rapid transitions from lyricism to wild energetic dancing finally leading to the culmination with the amazingly beautiful resplendent theme from Tweed on the horn bringing the performance to a beautiful and stunning climax in the Final Hymn. This was a superb close to the season and one looks forward to the orchestra’s appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival. Following this season finale, the orchestra have a tour of Belgium, and a busy summer season.

Gregor Tassie

Leave a Comment