He has conducted them before and just released a recording with them, but Maxim Emelyanychev’s first concert as Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was an event not to be missed. From Nizhny Novgorod and only born in 1988, Emelyanychev already has a glowing international reputation, winning awards for opera as well as for his piano playing. His orchestral arrangement with the players mostly at floor level and his abandonment of both podium and baton brought a fresh and invigorating direct line of communication. His infectious sense of fun was immediate as he bounded in with a huge smile, a man simply bursting to share the music with us.

Maxim Emelyanychev © Gordon Burniston
Maxim Emelyanychev
© Gordon Burniston

Philippe Hersant’s Five Pieces for Orchestra was a lively and thoughtful opener, the short form piece for a Mozart-sized orchestra based on his solo works receiving its UK premiere. Mechanical rhythms from some vibrant wooden block percussion was juxtaposed with sighing strings and soft chords on tubular bells creating an intriguing soundscape. Solo work from string desk principals over bright woodwind comment gave way to a short perpetual motion third piece. The Elégie was perhaps the heart of the work – an extensive viola solo over dense strings, two oboes and horns – the developing lower harmonies sleepily jazzy in parts before the viola broke through again, pouring out a melancholic life story, full of soul. A final piece squared the circle, returning to scurrying strings, lively percussion and warm bass chords. Emelyanychev was never at peace, mesmerisingly balletic in his interaction with the music and players who clearly enjoyed this work.

Carolin Widmann joined the players for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto no. 2, a demanding piece for the soloist who is hardly ever silent, beginning with a simple unaccompanied theme. Emelyanychev kept the performance very fluid, every now and again taking a few steps back from his score and so including Widmann in his line of sight, everything excitingly unpredictable. After a soft start, Widmann tore into her part, a snare drum adding nervous energy until she relaxed with a more substantial tuneful passage. Emelyanychev brought sensitive orchestral shading to the woodwind and pizzicato strings in the Andante allowing Widmann to emerge from her rich lower strings and to soar – the players responding with genuine warmth. A virtuosic finale from Widmann thrilled with woven flute and trumpet snatches adding colour to the fun. Extended applause was rewarded with a charming encore of Fauré Berceuse, Emelyanychev at the piano.

For Mozart’s Symphony no. 41, "Jupiter”, Emelyanychev had the orchestra gather in a potboiling huddle, horns and trumpets now with period instruments and Baroque timpani. This tight crucible of players produced a vibrant colourful performance, full of contrasts and surprises at every turn, Emelyanychev, willowy and expressive, completely in touch with the musicians who responded lithely like a finely tuned racing car. The stately bounce, carefully placed accents, vibrancy of the string attack and the underpinning rasp of the brass made this performance memorable. A respite in the beautifully balanced Andante was short lived with Emelyanychev stamping his feet in the tightly performed Menuetto with sparkling woodwind. The final movement was taken at a seemingly impossibly fast lick, like a runaway train even, but it was all under control with strings blisteringly precise, bright flute work and busy timpani rounding off a joyous concert.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra completely embraced Emelyanychev’s enthusiasm and responded with vigour. It is going to be a very exciting partnership to watch.

****1