Music review: SCO 50th Birthday Concert, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Led by their effervescent conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, the SCO celebrated their half-century in style, writes David Kettle

Scottish Chamber Orchestra 50th Birthday Concert, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

How do you celebrate a 50th birthday? If you’re the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with a lot of style, a lot of class, and a great deal of fun too. And, most importantly, not by looking back at past glories – however tempting that might have been – but by gazing into the future, and celebrating what the orchestra is now.

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There’s plenty to celebrate in that regard, with the SCO under the clearly inspirational leadership of Maxim Emelyanychev, whose boyish sense of enthusiasm, commitment and eagerness to share was evident everywhere in this Edinburgh concert. He was joined by compatriot Dmitri Ablogin for a zippy Mozart Double Piano Concerto, in which the two keyboardists were evidently having just as much fun as the audience, lined up on a pair of fortepianos and surrounded on all sides by orchestral players – though there was apparently little need for detailed direction. It was the freshness, freedom and spontaneity of their performance that really stood out – and a joy at sharing those qualities with listeners. The “Aquarium” from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals made for a magical, understated encore.

That joy continued in Emelyanychev’s dashing concert closer, Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony – and while the jolt that gives the piece its nickname was played for all it’s worth, it was the stomping rhythms of the fast and furious minuet and the bristling clarity of the outer movements that really stood out. Emelyanychev’s wildcard opener – the suite from Russian/British composer Elena Langer’s 2016 opera Figaro Gets a Divorce – brought many smiles with its pastiches of Hollywood soundtracks and sultry tangos, and the SCO players delivered it with panache.

To top it all, current SCO associate composer Jay Capperauld had devised a surprise kaleidoscopic fantasia on a certain famous birthday tune, one that channelled Copland and Stravinsky into something thoroughly distinctive and utterly joyful. An exuberant close to a concert that put musical insights at the focal point of its celebrations.

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