Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Emelyanychev

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

AND so the Maxim Emelyanychev adventure officially begins, with the 30-year-old Russian conductor’s first season concerts as the SCO’s new principal conductor. Having stepped in to save the day on a couple of occasions already, charmed the Edinburgh Festival audience with a group of these players, and released his first album with the orchestra, he is already a familiar presence, but there will surely be more surprises from this prodigiously talented young musician.

This concert’s included him sitting down at the piano to accompany soloist Carolin Widmann in her encore after Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, and the interesting choice of opening work. This was the UK premiere of Philippe Hersant’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, although it was unveiled in France when Emelyanychev was still in short pants. It turns out to be a dynamic opening work-out for the players of a small orchestra, with featured spots for the firsts in the strings and the winds, and sparsely employed percussion and piano (hence the instrument’s presence on stage).

The SCO’s new percussionist, Louise Goodwin, is having a busy time in her first weeks, rather than settling in behind her usual brace of timpani, and she had a crucially colourful part to play in the Prokofiev. Eschewing both a baton and a podium, Emelyanychev could make a larger space than the City Hall feel intimate, and this was a beautifully integrated boudoir performance of the work. The stark simplicity of the start of the slow movement was exquisite, and Widmann’s way with the snakes and ladders of the third riveting.

In finishing with Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, the conductor signalled that Mackerras and Ticciati territory is also his. There is something of the sporting “huddle” in the way Emelyanychev seems to gather the players around him; his arms may not be unusually long, but they do fill a lot of space. As the story of Mozart 41 unfolded, the Minuet and Trio was a conversation among friends, becoming rather more assertive in the “Molto allegro” finale — and that impression is indication of his approach.

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