SCO / Emelyanychev / Higham

Perth Concert Hall

Never underestimate the individual virtuosity of orchestral musicians who sit more anonymously, week after week, amid the wider ranks of their respective bands. Here was a typical illustration: SCO principal cellist Philip Higham breaking ranks to feature in his orchestra’s latest digital presentation from Perth Concert Hall as soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme.

Tchaikovsky’s balletic concert piece – it’s the closest he got to writing a full-blown cello concerto – is exquisite and fanciful, as the title suggests. But that shouldn’t imply anything lightweight or superficial. As the opening orchestral gambit of this iridescent performance under SCO principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev asserted, here also is music of infinite character and substance. 

It offered the perfect interpretational springboard for Higham, whose entrance established all the perfection, agility and poise that was to inform the ensuing variations. The nimble, airborne simplicity of the main theme, the natural zest that followed, even the sumptuous calm in Tchaikovsky’s more contemplative moments, were all effortlessly captured in a performance notable for its visual grace and instinctive musicality.

It was the centrepiece of a concert bookended by Schubert, whose music, Emelyanychev reminded us, should have been a focal theme in the originally-planned SCO season. A pairing of Schubert’s Symphony No 5 and the Entr’act No 3 from Rosamunde was telling proof as to why that was always such a good idea.

In a symphony indebted in its lyrical, spirited zeal to Mozart, Emelyanychev seemed in seventh heaven, light-footed and with delicate gestures that inspired the freshest of results from his players. There was spring-like effervescence in the opening Allegro, eliciting affectionate playfulness from the conversational woodwind. The free-flowing Andante con moto and breezy Menuetto then set the pace for a finale the went like the clappers and embraced dramatic turbulence as chilling as Mozart’s Don Giovanni. 

No such pungency in the Rosamunde excerpt, which was all about eloquence and charm. There’s a gloriously ambient ring to the empty Perth hall acoustics that was fully embraced in this performance, evident in the poetic sheen and settled composure that coloured its every moment.
Ken Walton