Music review: SCO & Maxim Emelyanychev, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

The SCO’s latest Baroque romp was lots of fun, but there was also some deeply serious musicianship behind it, writes David Kettle

SCO & Maxim Emelyanychev, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

Maxim Emelyanychev’s madcap Baroque-inspired concerts are becoming something of an annual fixture for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. And on the strength of this year’s freewheeling, unpredictable but immaculately delivered offering, that can only be a good thing.

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Not only was Emelyanychev’s mix of repertoire illuminating – with discoveries and oddities in among more conventional fare – but it also showed the conductor at his bounding, bouncing best, and the SCO players were only too happy to join in the fun.

Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra PIC: Chris Christodoulou
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And a lot of fun it was, but with deeply serious musicianship behind it – a reminder, if we needed one, that entertaining doesn’t have to mean lightweight. There was nothing inconsequential, for example, about the two Vivaldi concertos in Emelyanychev’s second half. RV558 is an over-the-top showpiece for collected recorders, lutes, early clarinets and even “prepared” violins “in tromba marina” (tin foil stuck niftily over the bridges to produce a deliciously rasping, brassy tone), and while Emelyanychev revelled in the piece’s sonic opulence, it was a performance jolted into life and crackling with electricity, joyful and vividly crafted.

The closing four-violin Concerto, RV580, was equally richly textured, bustling with energy from four of the SCO’s front-desk fiddlers, and from Emelyanychev’s fullsome harpsichord realisation. In between, he turned up clutching a sopranino recorder for Hindemith’s arrangements of ancient French dances – more limited in their sonic ambitions, perhaps, but engaging nonetheless.

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Emelyanychev had opened the evening with a nimble dash through Grieg’s Holberg Suite, and the concert’s oddity was the surprisingly angst-ridden, neo-expressionist Baroque Song from French composer/organist Thierry Escaich – convincingly delivered, but tonally somewhat out on a limb. The evening’s highlight, however, saw Emelyanychev attacking his keyboard with fierce abandon in Górecki’s 1980 Harpsichord Concerto, a piece of (intentionally) infuriating repetitions but also mighty power and energy, which drove the SCO string players hard and drew whoops from the crowd. What an evening.