This concert was all about the melody. That, and Maxim Emelyanychev’s flair for the thrill of music. In this latest offering featuring players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, composers included a key figure in the development of opera seria who wrote more operas than Handel, and a virtuoso known as the “Paganini of the double-bass” and who conducted the first performance of Verdi’s Aida. With headlines like these, you’d expect household names. But Johann Adolph Hasse and Giovanni Bottesini, the composers in question, are hardly Top of the Pops, and those who only look for the biggest names will miss out on gems like these.

Maxim Emelyanychev
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

As the multi-faceted Emelyanychev took to the keyboards, the first two works featured the harpsichord in stately and scintillating fashion. Hasse was a contemporary of Bach and Handel, a prolific composer and extremely popular in his day with a penchant for melody. His Adagio and Fugue in G minor was played here by five strings plus harpsichord, the Adagio given a smooth and almost Romantic feel before launching into an exhilarating fugue, light and precise with some wonderfully delicate changes in dynamics, all under Emelyanychev’s watchful eye amidst Hasse’s sea of polyphonic textures.

Maxim Emelyanychev and members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Emelyanychev kept to the harpsichord in Haydn’s Keyboard Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11, retaining the same modest forces of five strings and removing the two oboes and two horns from the original orchestration. The snappiness of Emelyanychev’s playing – and indeed of the strings – was coated with an air of elegance and simplicity. The second movement had Emelyanychev showing fine control over the subtle embellishments over softly flowing strings, and the Hungarian Rondo skated briskly along, decorated with cheeky flourishes, hints of a Mozartian influence. 

The next two pieces were both composed in 1880 and, while poles apart in terms of temperament, they both exuded a warmth of sorts. Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, his Adagio on two Hebrew melodies, was written for cello and orchestra but played here in an arrangement for cello and piano. SCO principal Philip Higham gave an expressive reading of this haunting work, showing restraint and poise, with Emelyanychev’s sympathetic partnership on piano rich and nicely judged. Higham felt the melodic lines in the upper registers with a sense of continuity, and had a particularly fine middle range, lending depth to the meandering melodies.

Nikita Naumov
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

In a stark change of mood, Emelyanychev was joined by SCO leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore on violin and Nikita Naumov on double bass to lift the spirits in an arrangement of Bottesini’s Gran Duo Concertante. Being a bit of a showpiece, Gilmore’s fine technique had violin sparring and harmonising deliciously with Naumov’s double bass, refined in its own virtuosity and revelling in the digital gymnastics up and down the lengthy fingerboard across the spectrum of Bottesini’s lilting melodies.

It felt slightly low key, but the playing and attention to detail held true and the variety in the programme was refreshingly intriguing.

This performance was reviewed from the SCO's video stream