SCO / Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow
It was impossible not to pick up the eagerness with which Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra launched into their first season concert in Glasgow in almost 20 months. The smiles on the players’ faces as they tuned was already indicative of their undisguised pleasure in having a live audience, as was the palpable emotion in chief executive Gavin Reid’s welcome back speech. But it was the moment Emelyanychev rushed to the podium to deliver a vicious, impatient downbeat that the power of live music made its visceral mark.
This was Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto, a work that can be what you like it to be, blustery and bombastic with the central slow movement as an oasis of relative calm, or a tempered approach with the emphasis firmly on harnessing its extremes to create a more organic, though no less volcanic, survey.
Emelyanychev and his soloist, the Russian-Lithuanian Lukas Geniušas, chose the former, the brusque and challenging opening exchange a clear indication of what was to come. In many ways it was an uncomfortable ride. Emelyanychev played freely with the tempo, placing gestural rhetoric at the forefront of his stormy vision. If that felt forced at times, there was no denying the resultant unpredictability and excitability that made every precious moment an edge-of-the-seat one.
Everyone was up for it, including the equally invigorated Geniušas, and it was this singularity of purpose that won the day. The colossal opening movement was explosive, shock tactics heightening its language of extremes; the slow movement eschewing over-sentiment in favour of rich-veined lyricism; the finale resuming the struggle but with exhaustive victory firmly in sight. Geniušas proved a pugnacious match to the exuberant Emelyanychev, to which the SCO responded with matching complicity.
This interval-less concert ended with Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, and a performance that, once again, shaped its own destiny. While this symphony may not have quite the same instinctive charm as Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony – which the BBC SSO had performed in the same hall 24 hours earlier – Emelyanychev played to its strengths, some of which proved to be unexpected delights.
There was an abundance of clarity, enabling unexpected colours to emerge, such as those moments where a low-set clarinet shadowed the strings, or where Mendelssohn’s complex counterpoint danced with boyish lustre. And there was a life-giving buoyancy that ensured this programme ended on the same high with which it began.