SCO / Emelyanychev
Perth Concert Hall
SCO chief conductor Maxim Emelyanychev furthered his reputation in Perth this week as a musical maverick, conducting an all-Mendelssohn programme that sought to illuminate our understanding of the composer without recourse to gimmick. Nothing extreme, but he offered performances driven by the profoundest integrity, coloured by unceasing curiosity that unearthed gem after gem of interpretational insight.
That was even the case with the evergreen incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, some of it particularly familiar (the storybook Overture, luxurious Nocturne and jaunty Wedding March), some of it less so, not least those chorus and solo contributions that humanised the Song with Chorus and Finale. The presence of sopranos and altos from the SCO Chorus, joined by solo sopranos Hilary Cronin and Jessica Cale, were a warming presence on the ample Perth stage.
Emelyanychev’s vision of the music was light and playful, ever conscious of the natural sparkle springing from Mendelssohn’s textural complexities. The “once upon a time” opening bars echoed Shakespeare’s Puckish mischief, their angelic chords sweetly nurtured by the flutes, immediately countered by the scuttling catch-me-if-you-can strings whose later comical donkey impersonations – are these a reference to Bottom’s whimsical alter ego as an ass? – erupted with infectious irreverence.
What seemed like a conscious choice to minimise string vibrato added to the overriding picture of a magical landscape, and in the brass the rounded, retro-presence of the ophicleide in combination with natural horns created an ethereal glow. The joy of this performance was enough to offset periodic mishits by the trumpets and horns.
Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony was the perfect aperitif, altogether more grounded than the gossamer sensitivities of the incidental music, but hardly without its own lustrous persona. Emelyanychev’s irrepressible enthusiasm made its mark immediately, both in the sprightliness of the tempi and the scintillating detail he visibly elicited. There was never a dull moment, not even when the ensemble’s absolute togetherness wobbled, as it did once or twice. Clearly Mendelssohn’s visit to Italy, which inspired the symphony, saw that country in its most dazzling light.