Festival Music

Maxim Emelyanychev & Principals of the SCO

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

YES, the name is at the top is Russian, but this was a hot ticket because it was a recital by Edinburgh’s home team, with the new Principal Conductor at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the piano. Playing Schumann with recently-departed first horn Alec Frank-Gemmill, Brahms with clarinetist Maximiliano Martin and cellist Philip Higham, and then adding orchestra leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore and Fiona Winning on viola for the 1935 Sextet by Ernest Von Dohnanyi, this was an intimate showcase for the new man, whose keyboard skills will also feature alongside his conducting in the coming season. The fact that he was quick to leap to the aid of his colleague and fetch the correct chair for Higham, and displayed an appreciative manner to his page-turner will not have gone unnoticed by the home supporters either.

I don’t know enough about French horns to assess the precise vintage of the one Frank-Gemmill played here, but the important thing about Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, from 1849, is that it was written for the then cutting-edge valve instrument. The opening section is a typically lovely melody, with vast leaps across the range of the instrument.

We have much late Brahms to thank the inspiration of 19th century clarinettist Richard Muhlfeld for, but the trio with piano and cello is more rarely heard. This teamed Emelyanychev with two SCO players whose chamber group skills are already well known, in a work that shares the spotlight democratically and has brilliant finish.

The Dohnanyi owes an obvious debt to Brahms and has a huge, and even more democratic, first movement with a big piano part, but it is in the later music that it really comes into its own with music that veers happily between Palm Court and the Cotton Club.

The only thing wittier than Dohnanyi’s kitsch ending to the finale was the way the sextet reappeared after their enthusiastic ovation and, at Emelyanychev’s instigation, recapped just the final few bars, perhaps with even more emphasis. It was the funniest encore the Queen’s Hall will hear this year, and if anyone was in any doubt what an asset the pianist is likely to prove as the SCO’s new Principal Conductor, well, they ken better noo.