SCO / Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow
It is an issue some are understandably loath to raise, but a year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is significant that calls for blanket sanctions against the aggressor’s people and its culture have diminished, in the UK at least. Many in the neighbouring Baltic states and in Poland take an entirely different view of course.
The coincidence of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra featuring a Moscow Conservatoire contemporary of Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev as soloist for the Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms on that anniversary, was therefore unremarked – and it would have been a great loss, certainly, to have been denied the result.
Perhaps as a consequence of his friendship with Aylen Pritchin, this was a visibly more relaxed Emelyanychev than we are accustomed to seeing. The exuberant early-music man who struts a band of travelling players around the City Halls foyer was replaced by a statesman for Romanticism, the authenticity of gut strings for soloist and ensemble balanced by a deliberate pace to the music that often meant it actually seemed slower than we are used to hearing it played.
More importantly really, this was far from the virtuoso showpiece the concerto can often be, especially in its outer movements. Pritchin is a superb player, and his first movement cadenza, for example, was both deeply expressive and remarkably fresh. However, he was as eloquent as part of the overall sound as he was with the pyrotechnics. The Brahms concerto has had its detractors as well as admirers since its premiere on New Year’s Day 1879, but this performance could not only claim authenticity with how that must have sounded, but also advocacy for a work that has been criticised for not being sufficiently about the soloist.
An encore of Bach – what else? – gave the audience a bonus of the warmth in Pritchin’s playing. He and Emelyanychev regularly work together as chamber musicians and with the conductor’s other band, Il Pomo Doro, so we can surely look forward to a return visit.
Emelyanychev’s most recently-released recording is of Mozart with Il Pomo Doro, and the tasty pairing of that composer’s first and final symphonies has been widely acclaimed. Although the SCO’s catalogue already has definitive accounts of the Brahms symphonies by Mackerras and Ticciati, he made an eloquent case for a further set with his approach to Symphony No 1.
Famously, it took Brahms a lifetime to write although it was followed relatively swiftly by the others, and the conductor launched into its bold opening with characteristic vigour. Thereafter, though, the story unfolded in the unhurried manner of the concerto, and often very quietly indeed as he impressed restraint on the strings. This was a big SCO, of course, with four basses, five horns and trombones, but the softness to the string sound, both bowed and pizzicato, was often quite startling – so much so that the wind soloists (all on sparkling form) occasionally seemed to be projecting too much.
Picture by Christopher Bowen