Festival Music

Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Emelyanychev

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

VIOLIN Concerto No 1 by Max Bruch is surely the most played violin concerto in the canon at present, but audiences never tire of hearing it. Nicola Benedetti may well have performed it more often than anything else in her repertoire, but in partnership with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and its Russian Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, she found new things to say on Monday evening.

This was always going to be a special occasion – a concert appearance in Festival Director Fergus Linehan’s final programme by the woman who succeeds him in the role in a few weeks – and Benedetti had a statement outfit for it in a spangled white jump-suit that even the most misogynistic London critic would struggle to identify as gym wear.

In other ways, understatement was the order of the night. From Louise Goodwin’s timpani roll and the muted winds that usher in the soloist, this was an account of the concerto very carefully measured, Benedetti’s first note on the violin firm and assertive but also quite quiet – and perhaps slightly extended. Although we saw the exuberant side of Emelyanychev later, it was after much of a notably meticulous Maxim.

HeraldScotland: Nicola Benedetti & Scottish Chamber Orchestra_Picture: Ryan BuchananNicola Benedetti & Scottish Chamber Orchestra_Picture: Ryan Buchanan

The soloist treated her cadenza at the end of the first movement as little more than a bridge to the central Adagio, which is the romantic heart of this Romantic concerto, its dynamics beautifully controlled by the conductor in what was a partnership performance rather than a star vehicle.

It was also noticeable that Benedetti did not attack her first entry in the closing movement as she once would have. The Hungarian fireworks of this Finale were not as gaudy as we have heard them in the past, and all the better for it. And as crowd-pleasers go, the Meditation from Massenet’s Thais, with the conductor at the piano, could not have been bettered as an encore.

Emelyanychev was even more in his element after the interval, directing this large edition of the SCO through his choice of music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty. Harpist Eleanor Hudson and principal cello Philip Higham were among the leading solo turns in a reading shorn of any Wagnerian pomposity, in which just 20 first and second violins proved ample to communicate the rhythmic complexities of the score. The precision tempi and ensemble coherence created by this most eloquent of conductors made it easy to imagine the dancers the music was composed for – and, in true Emelyanychev style, this DVD came with encore extra features after the carefully unfolded Act 2 Finale.