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Maxim Emelyanychev & SCO - Schubert: Symphony No. 9 - The Times

The day when a young and unknown conductor called John Smith is vaulted into stardom conducting a leading British orchestra still seems some way off. Not that anyone should shake their heads at the arrival of Maxim Emelyanychev — Russian, 31, hair that a mother might like to trim — as the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO).

Appointed in May 2018 after steering the SCO through a fizzing account of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, and officially in the post since September this year, he has already had his contract extended until 2025. The SCO obviously doesn’t want to lose him.

You can hear why as soon as the players, recorded last February, again tuck in to Schubert’s Ninth, the maestro’s lucky charm. This ebullient epic can be a graveyard for conductors who try too hard and keep poking the music’s insistent rhythms in the ribs. But Emelyanychev never seems a manipulator; he’s always inside the music, flying with the notes, keeping textures light and airy while giving every fortissimo its due.

It’s his instinctive grip of Schubert’s dynamics, I think, that may be his secret ingredient. With every loud orchestral surge in the hurtling last movement, new energy arrives to keep the capacious structure intact. What wisdom he shows, too, in keeping its rhythmic undertow quietly but powerfully purring away, like the engine of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Away from the symphony’s heat and speed, he supplies exactly the warm, unaffected flow that Schubert’s argument also needs.

None of this would mean so much without responsive players. The SCO and Emelyanychev already play as a team, although that doesn’t stop individual instruments, woodwinds especially, taking turns in the sun. I can’t remember when Schubert’s symphony sounded so life-enhancing and fresh.

The Times
28 November 2019