Music review: SCO & Lukas Geniušas, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra began their first season of live, in-person performances since March 2020 on cracking form, writes David Kettle

Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra PIC: Chris Christodoulou

Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Lukas Geniušas, Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

It was on 12 March 2020 that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra last performed in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, playing Mendelssohn and Mozart with violinist Nicola Benedetti. Just a few days later, the Covid shutters came crashing down.

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It felt entirely right, therefore, that a long 81 weeks later, the orchestra should begin its new season of live, in-person concerts at the same venue. But alongside the excitement and celebration, there were other emotions swirling around the Hall. Even Gavin Reid, SCO Chief Executive, sounded slightly choked-up as he welcomed back the audience (socially distanced, but nonetheless managing to make the Hall feel full), saying: “It’s very good to see you.”

Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto proved just the right piece for the occasion, certainly in the bright, brilliant, bounding account given by SCO Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev and visiting Russian pianist Lukas Geniušas, who both bounced energetically onto the stage, beaming eagerly behind their facemasks.

Geniušas was fascinating: forthright and clear, entirely lacking in distracting histrionics, staring intently down at the keyboard as if peering deep into the music itself. Emelyanychev cast himself around in all directions in his eagerness to convey every inflection, every switchbank mood swing.

The orchestra was on cracking form, alive to Emelyanychev’s every wrist flick, and conjuring the texture of velvet but the definition of marble for the sublime slow movement’s opening. Confident, assured and deeply communicative, it was just the piece and just the performance to demonstrate beyond doubt why live performance matters so much.

Despite its local connections, Mendelssohn’s somewhat dour Scottish Symphony proved a perhaps surprising choice to close the concert, but Emelyanychev tackled it with breathtaking expressive freedom and energy, showcasing the work’s autumnal colours magnificently in gloriously vivid, supple playing from the orchestra. All in all, an evening of both joy and reflection, a fitting combination for the SCO’s longed-for return.

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