Classical review: Scottish Ensemble & Maxim Rysanov, Edinburgh

Maxim Rysanov with his rare 1780 Guiseppe Guadagnini viola
Maxim Rysanov with his rare 1780 Guiseppe Guadagnini viola
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Schubert appeared in several guises in the Scottish Ensemble’s programme In Schubert’s Company. The string ensemble was fronted by Ukrainian-born violist Maxim Rysanov, whose relaxed presence cast a warm, autumnal glow over music, both by Schubert, and by contemporary composers using Schubert’s music as a springboard for their own.

Scottish Ensemble & Maxim Rysanov | Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh | Rating: ****

The Georgian elegance of the Assembly Rooms provided the perfect setting for a largely reflective programme that included works by Sergey Akhunov and Dobrinka Tabokova. It opened with former rock musician Akhunov’s In Schubert’s Company, a piece of easy-listening that underpins its Schubert theme with blankets of luscious string writing, receding into a final ghostly reverie. It was beautifully played.

Der Erlkonig took us uptempo, Akhunov reinventing Schubert’s well-known chase song in a form of layered, energised minimalism. Once again, Rysanov’s effortless magnetism stole the show.

After Tabakova’s viola and strings arrangement of Schubert’s warm-hearted Arpeggione Sonata, her Fantasy Homage to Schubert took us to a wondrous, ethereal place, where spectral string textures conjure up a magical impression of floating through space, and through which the late emergence of yet another Schubert theme on viola provides a heart-stopping moment, rather as Britten does in his famous viola variations on Dowland’s Lachrymae. Again, beautifully performed by the Ensemble.

Mahler’s sensitive amplification of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet for full strings was a wholesome finale: a little inconsistent in places, but delivered with plenty of spirit and panache. But does Ensemble director Jonathan Morton need to stamp his feet so much?