SCO / Emelyanychev

Stirling Castle

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra could not have engineered it, but a remarkable coincidence of featured artists provided principal second violinist Marcus Barcham Stevens with priceless material for his spoken introduction to Tuesday’s programme in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle.

Playing Max Bruch’s rarely heard 1911 Concerto for Clarinet and Viola were the SCO’s Principal Clarinet Maximiliano Martin and Principal Viola Max Mandel. The orchestra was conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev and – just to max-out on Maxes – the work was originally written for the composer’s virtuoso clarinettist son, Max Felix Bruch.

The work itself begins in a mellow fashion. The range of the two solo instruments is so similar that violists play the late works Brahms initially wrote for clarinet, and in the second movement – a very moderate Allegro indeed – Mandell and Martin completed one another’s phrases like an old married couple. The music is, in fact, occasionally reminiscent of Brahms, as well as of Mahler, and the opening fanfare of the brisker finale was sufficiently like Mendelssohn it would have been small surprise to see a bride make her entrance from the back of the hall. Not a neglected masterpiece, then, but a welcome change from the little of the composer’s output we hear all too often.

The concert had begun with the world premiere that has launched the SCO’s 50thanniversary season, Associate Composer Jay Capperauld’s The Origin of Colour, so the second half performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No3 was the first well-known music of the evening. It would, however, have been a treat also to be hearing the Eroica for the first time, as Emelyanychev launched into a bold account of the first movement, achieving a terrific balance of the instruments and losing no detail of the score in what is not always the most forgiving of acoustics.

There was an airiness about the Marcia funebre initially as well, but by its end it had strayed on the wrong side of the line between stately and lying-in-state. Evidently exhilarating to play for, the SCO’s Principal Conductor usually finds the ideal combination of scale and pace in bringing the lessons of historically-informed performance to the podium, but his tempi did not seem quite so assured here. Although the Scherzo came out of the trap like a hare, he subsequently gave the horns rather more space than they wanted for their hunting calls. Happily conductor and players were on firmer ground in the rhapsodic variations of the Finale.

If the Beethoven was not a complete triumph, Capperauld’s new work assuredly is. In some respects it is quite conventional stuff from a young composer whose catalogue so far is impressive in its eclecticism. The opening of percussive effects across the orchestra giving way to a chorale of winds is a well-marked path, and the blend of melody and orchestration that follows is close kin to Aaron Copland, which is a high bar to reach.

Subsequently there are moments that call to mind Leonard Bernstein and John Adams, which is to say that this musical evocation of colour coming into the world is very colourful indeed for almost its entire duration. Few are the contemporary works that you’d put good money on hearing again on a regular basis, but The Origin of Colour sounds very like a racing certainty.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Jay Capperauld by Euan Robertson