Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Emelyanychev
City Halls, Glasgow
Keith Bruce
five stars
HIS contract recently extended to 2025, the Maxim Emelyanychev era is now well underway at the SCO, and as word of the vibrant Baroque adventure of these concerts spreads, surely there will be fewer empty seats in Glasgow of a Friday evening than the orchestra sometimes sees. Perhaps his approach to mainstream repertoire will be picked apart — the universal approval for his first recording of Schubert’s last symphony notwithstanding — but the level of engagement he brings to early music is already something special.
Of course, our chamber orchestra has always performed this music, but not with this gut strings and period horns level of authenticity and Jordi Savall-like exuberance. That brings some inevitable problems, with those horns far from pitch perfect at the start of Telemann’s Alster Overture Suite, but that was a difficulty swiftly overcome, and the rhythmic and chromatic evocation of nymphs, shepherds, frogs and crows later was ample compensation.
There was some remarkable virtuosity to appreciate, as bassoonist Alison Green dispatched the hugely demanding solo in the Bouree in Bach’s Suite No.4 with graceful insouciance, as well as combining beautifully with the string basses in the continuo. She was also among the small group that played in the foyer during the interval, led by the principal conductor revealing his prowess as a period wind instrument player on cornetto and sopranino recorder (that’s my best guess).
That led perfectly into the more percussive French music of the second half, and suites by Lully and Rameau. It was a lot of music in a remarkably short time, and played with the energy that Emelyanychev embodies. This era of composition is never going to sound “same-y” in his hands. And while he does all this at pace, turning on his heel to return to the stage as soon as he is in the wings, there is a meticulous balance throughout, with even the quieter rhythm instruments — his own harpsichord and Eligio Quintiero on theorbo — clearly audible during the Bach.