Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Maxim Emelyanychev – Mozart’s final three Symphonies

Symphony No.39 in E-flat, K543
Symphony No.40 in G-minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Maxim Emelyanychev

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 1 August, 2021
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

There is a bit of a vogue in considering these final symphonic masterpieces as a triptych. Nikolaus Harnoncourt described them as an “instrumental oratorio”, with each being, respectively, the prelude, middle section and finale. Mozart did compose them in the same year (1788), and that was after something of a hiatus in the genre. He lived for another three years. Having heard them thus, I am unpersuaded as to Harnoncourt’s rather grand idea for them as he describes. Although, that could easily be because of Maxim Emelyanychev’s rather peculiar antics with them.

From the opening the Scottish Chamber Orchestra brought decent control to internal balances; here is a band of musicians that listen to one another. And they needed to, because, as did happen, there is a battle to be fought with this hall’s acoustic, especially in such music as this. Having the players distanced from each other was probably of assistance, at least to the audience if not the players. Some fine momentum, then, come the Allegro of No.39’s first movement, and the strings were heard beautifully in the following Andante con moto, setting the pastoral scene. Some unnecessary re-tuning interrupted (as it did in all three symphonies), but the dance rhythms of the Minuet had an aristocratic air and got things going again. A full and hearty Allegro ensued that missed the finer nuances of distinctive articulation, and for all Emelyanychev’s gestures, this was a solid and grounded K543.

BBC Proms 2021
Scottish Chamber Orchestra | Maxim Emelyanychev – Mozart’s final three symphonies
Photograph: BBC / Chris Christodoulou

“Emelyanychev’s gestures”, indeed. The podium-less conductor treated most of the space around his music stand as it, striding about and waving his arms all over the place. It got very tiresome very quickly. One wonders what rehearsals are for, if not to have ‘in the bag’ such things as ideas for bowing, and playing in general.

The G-minor Symphony’s opening was rushed, and tripped quite waywardly, lacking an as-one approach. Some nicely nuanced horns glowed, as they did in sotto voce style in the ensuing Andante, but here other details got lost in the air. The Minuet was quite lightly driven, which then made for a soft contrast with the Trio. The intellectual ‘working-out’ of ideas in the closing Allegro assai were skirted around; the playing nodded to romanticism instead.

The rendition of the ‘Jupiter’ did not define it as a great summation of Mozart’s symphonic output, but as a playing-of-the-notes affair. The antiphonal violins’ demarcations in the opening Allegro vivace didn’t carry, and neither did the inner turmoil of the second movement Andante cantabile, although fine woodwind did, as similarly in the following Trio. Some distinguished playing indeed, although Emelyanychev’s haranguing of his players got really distracting. The three Symphonies did hang together in a decent fashion, but as a whole, and as presented here, one didn’t detect a planned architecture, whether from composer or, more pertinently, conductor.

For those of you who hadn’t been paying attention at the back, Emelyanychev gave us an encore of the coda and its five ideas. For those who had, you got the same as you had just heard.

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