SCO / Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow
Sold, on the undeniable attraction of its star soloist, as “A French Adventure with Steven Isserlis”, that title really told only half the story of this concert.
After the interval we were once again in the repertoire territory the Scottish Chamber Orchestra explored so successfully in its online films concerts during lockdown, the intimacy of which Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev seems to relish projecting in live performance.
Just ten principals are required for Jean Francaix’s Dixtour, but these are not just any front-desk players, they are SCO front-desk players, not excepting guest leader Sophie Wedell who was outstanding all evening. Symphonic in structure, the work is one of those large chamber pieces that is vital, in all senses, and irresistibly vivacious. At its end principal flute Andre Cebrian, who also put in a full and colourful shift, swapped to the piccolo for the last bars, seeming to continue a conversation that had been started by Debussy at the concert’s opening.
No matter how often you may have heard the beginning of Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, Cebrian’s flawless playing made you bring fresh ears to the job. So too did Emelyanychev’s dynamic control of the strings and winds, pointing up all the smallest details as well as the swells of sound.
It was a skill he demonstrated again in the far-from-French Divertimento for String Orchestra by Bela Bartok that concluded the evening. The SCO plays more propulsively for Emelyanychev that anyone else and he was hugely alive to the work’s folk rhythms while Wedell added a beautifully-shaped solo to the last movement.
There must also be few regular concert goers who have never heard Isserlis play the Cello Concert No 1 by Saint-Saens, a work he has proselytised for persistently. Yet this too sounded burnished and sparkling with the chamber orchestra. With Cebrian taking the lead in the winds’ work with the soloist, there was a real partnership in the performance, with a startling neo-baroque style in the string playing. Isserlis never seemed to be holding back at all, and yet the balance with the smaller forces was just about perfect.
He assuredly thought so too, as the generous encore he chose to play featured the whole orchestra in Faure’s Elegie.