SCO / Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow
The ever-exuberant Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Maxim Emelyanychev, is a man who likes to spring a surprise, and – predictably enough – this programme, entitled “Maxim’s Baroque Inspirations”, came garnished with unbilled extra ingredients.
Playing recorder, he led a small group into the first floor foyer at the interval to perform music by 17th century London-based Italian violinist Nicola Matteis, revelling in his pied piper persona. And for an encore at the end of the published programme, he chose one of Grieg’s Elegiac Melodies, a string orchestra piece that nicely mirrored the Holberg Suite, which had opened the concert.
There was nothing haphazard about any of this. Rather the entire sequence of the evening was brilliantly conceived to show how early music had been drawn upon by more recent composers in the most imaginative ways.
In fact there was no authentically Baroque music before that half-time treat, but the performance of the Holberg was sparkling and full of variety. Emelyanychev’s emphasis on the pizzicato low strings at the start was masterly, the Sarabande surprisingly lush, the Gavotte suitably Handelian and the fourth movement Andante religioso almost like Rachmaninov.
The less familiar music that followed was just as rich in instrumental colour. Thierry Escaich’s Baroque Song, composed in 2007, begins with some very sprightly wind playing, while Alison Green’s contrabassoon was crucial to the dark central Andante before Philip Higham’s increasingly frantic cello solo led into the lively finale. Escaich is a Parisian organist, and his cut-and-paste use of Bach at times inspired thoughts of Gaston Leroux’ Gothic novel, if not the musical it spawned.
Henryck Gorecki has as much fun with early music in his Harpsichord Concerto, filtering it through Kraftwerk and Kraut-rock with relentless repeating figures from both the soloist – Emelyanychev himself – and the strings. The big major chord at the end of the Allegro molto first movement sets up the change of tone for the Vivace second one, and there is at least a suspicion that the Polish composer has his tongue firmly in his cheek.
The interval treat set up a second half with two Vivaldi concerti, the first “for many instruments” demonstrating that there was little the composer could learn from his successors about orchestration, and pairs of winds, and string instruments both plucked and bowed taking turns in the spotlight.
In between was a gem of seven short movements by Paul Hindemith, composed for students at Yale University, where he’d escaped during the Second World War. The arrangements of 16th century French dance music – including one labelled “Bransle d’Ecosse” – are superbly voiced for five strings, five winds, trumpet, theorbo and percussion, a group sitting in size exactly between the Vivaldi ensemble and that strolling foyer group for the Matteis. As in every other immaculate detail of the evening, Emelyanychev had it planned to the last beat of the last bar.