Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Emelyanychev
Controversial though its appearance was at the turn of the millennium, the restored Great Hall of Stirling Castle cuts a fine figure on the skyline on a sunny day. It is none too shabby on the inside too, and possibly the sort of concert venue Mozart and his contemporaries would have recognised, if a little more austere.
Although we were on familiar repertoire territory for the SCO in this summer tour concert under Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, there was little that was routine or predictable about what a capacity audience heard. Most obviously, that was in the symphony after the interval by Moravian composer Pavel Vranicky, born the same year as Mozart and outliving him only into the first decade of the 19th century.
Hugely prolific and much admired in his time, Vranicky (aka Paul Wranitzky) may well lack a place in the modern canon simply because he is not Mozart or Beethoven or Haydn, although his music is attractive enough. Perhaps, in the way that more obscure Baroque composers have recently been rediscovered, his day will come again.
In Emelyanychev’s hands, his Opus 36 Symphony in D (of which there seems to be just a single recording, by Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players, in the catalogue) emerged as much Beethovian as Mozartian, which is perhaps unsurprising from the pen of the man who conducted the Vienna premiere of Ludwig’s Symphony No 1. The young Russian conductor also brought his Baroque sensibility to the interpretation, especially on the third movement Polonese, an ideal encore piece for this orchestra if ever there was one. Hearing the whole work, however, gave a particular delight to the symphony’s extravagant conclusion. In another genre it would be called a “jam ending” – cue smiles all round.
SCO principal clarinet Maximiliano Martin had a generous share of the melody line in the Vranicky and he was the undoubted star of the evening for his immaculate performance of the Second Clarinet Concerto by Carl Maria von Weber, cheered to the historic building’s visible rafters at its end. Ever the showman, the Spaniard was at his theatrical best on a work that displayed his precision articulation and lightning-speed fluency. Weber wrote more demandingly for clarinet than Mozart, but Martin delighted in the bold leaps across the range of the instrument. Nor is the work merely a showpiece for the soloist, with some dramatic writing for the orchestra as well, and a particularly lovely pizzicato strings conclusion to the slow second movement here.
As many would have been hoping and expecting, Martin had an encore up his sleeve: one of the nine Hommages for solo clarinet by Hungarian Bela Kovacs, who died late last year. He chose not the one for Weber, or the de Falla which can still be seen online as part of the Scotsman’s award-winning pandemic-initiated “Sessions” project, but the penultimate of the series, for Zoltan Kodaly.
The programme had begun with Mozart’s Symphony No 38, the “Prague”, with Emelyanychev setting the theatrical tone of the evening from the first bar, in an interpretation full of drama and dynamic colouring. Those colours are often dark at the start of the ground-breaking first of the composer’s big four final symphonies, and the conductor then found something slightly sleazy in the languid chromatics of the second movement. The playful rhythmic games of the Presto finale are also right up his street, with precise, crisp work in the winds and a beautifully integrated string ensemble.
Programme repeated tonight in Dunoon’s Queen’s Hall; Emelyanychev and the SCO then match the Mozart with Haydn in Glenrothes and Musselburgh with Principal Cello Philip Higham as soloist.