The Scottish Chamber’s Beethoven cycle, playing all the symphonies in the composer’s anniversary year, finally arrived at the home fixture with this concert, because it’s the only instalment to be conducted by their new Principal Conductor, Maxim Emelyanychev

Emelyanychev has made a huge impact on the orchestra since he first conducted them two years ago, and that early promise has flowered beautifully since he took on the big job. His concerts this season have been complete winners, and this Beethoven concert followed in the same vein.

Maxim Emelyanchev © Jean-Baptiste Millot
Maxim Emelyanchev
© Jean-Baptiste Millot

For one thing, you can tell that he thinks about every aspect of the sound, even down to the layout of the orchestra, placing the double basses high up in the middle of the back row. This altered ever so slightly the orchestra’s tuning and focus, giving the sound something around which to orbit, and the very fact of making the basses more visible makes them seem a more vital element of the sound, drawing the ear by means of the eye. Their swirling energy made as big an impact in the Pastoral’s storm scene as did the trombones and timpani. 

Emelyanychev’s day in the countryside was as invigorating as it was relaxing, a fresh and exciting Pastoral with lots of light and shade and beautiful attention to detail in the first movement, with delicate grace notes and crescendos carefully built. His energetic opening with its sunny strings sat next to a slow movement whose middle strings had a gorgeous soft hue, over which the violins sang beautifully, with gorgeous lyrical interaction with the clarinets. The Scherzo felt genuinely fun for once, a peasant party I’d like to have attended, and the articulation was beautifully precise throughout.

True, the finale felt too rushed, and the natural horns were rather stretched by the rapid tempo of the Scherzo, but this was almost redeemed by a beautifully hushed coda, the strings sounding at their most prayerful.

The explosive energy of the Seventh plays more naturally to Emelyanychev’s strengths, with a slow introduction that sounded as crisp as a Spring day, propelled forward into a tightly argued main Allegro into which Emelyanychev interjected a few cheeky pauses that expanded the drama in the rhythms. It was in the broiling energy of the fast movements that the orchestra’s stage layout really came into its own, and it was exhilarating to hear the melody bounced around the orchestra in three dimensions, particularly in the dynamic Scherzo, whose Trio scarcely slowed for breath, making a tremendously exciting effect. 

The finale was fast without being reckless, remaining light on its feet even as the knuckles turned whiter; and the transparency of the orchestral sound, with minimal vibrato on the strings, made everything clear. That was a special benefit in the Allegretto, whose drama was heightened by the emaciated string sound but which, nevertheless, conjured up gorgeous cello tone for the main theme. 

Overall, then, this was a thriller. The SCO have just released the brochure for their new season and Emelyanychev is all over the front cover. Concerts like this make it clear why.

****1