SCO / Emelyanychev
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
It is surely paradoxical that as Scottish churches close and dwindling Christian congregations are combined, classical music lovers are rarely more than a few weeks away from a performance of a Mass, Passion or Requiem. That was the concert hall audience that Johannes Brahms made a radical pitch for with his German Requiem, and he might be dismayed to find himself in competition with earlier church music for a slot in orchestral seasons.
Nonetheless, Ein deutsches Requiem holds a special place in the hearts of many, and this deeply moving work made a suitably grand conclusion to the SCO’s as it looks forward to celebrating its 50th anniversary. Perhaps few would have predicted that choice from Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev when he arrived five years ago, and it is emblematic of the way that his relationship with the orchestra – and the very fine SCO Chorus – has developed.
He will doubtless adapt it effectively for the confines of Glasgow’s City Hall, but Thursday evening’s performance took full advantage of the scale of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall by presenting the work as widescreen chamber music. This choir can make a mighty noise when asked (and did), but the detail in their performance, and immaculate German diction, often recalled the fine recording by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen with two piano accompaniment. The sole Gospel text in the work – the opening Beatitude “Blessed are they that mourn” – has rarely sounded as enticingly affecting.
Here, though, we had the full palette of orchestral sound with the four double basses split on either side of the stage, Andrew Watson’s contrabassoon alongside two of them stage right and the timpani of Louise Lewis Goodwin (on stellar form) behind the pair opposite. Crucial to the Edinburgh experience was the hall’s organ, played by Michael Bawtree, and especially – from that first movement to the end – those deep pedal notes.
Emelyanychev placed the soloists – bass baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmann and soprano Louise Alder (a late replacement for Sophie Bevan) – above the orchestra and in front of the choir and the effect was to position their voices perfectly in the mix, more integrated with the chorus than is often the case, and never overwhelmed by the instrumentalists.
Full of period instrument colour though the orchestra was, this was another example of the hybrid engineering in which this partnership of conductor and ensemble now excels, clocking in at a mid-paced 70 minutes. Emelyanychev was as invested in Gregory Batsleer’s singers – and the soloists – as he was in the band, and the integration of all the ingredients was always delightfully readable in his baton-free direction.