The SCO are in their “big band” formation in tonight’s Usher Hall concert, with extra strings and brass to strengthen their normal chamber orchestra size. They also have both a different conductor and a different soloist from the advertised programme. The SCO’s principal conductor, Robin Ticciati, has had some recurring medical problems, and is replaced by an impossibly young-looking Russian conductor, Maxim Emelyanychev, who looks about twelve (and indeed began conducting when he was twelve!), but is in fact twenty-nine. He is fast making a name for himself in Russia and across Europe. He certainly seems to have a good rapport with the musicians of the SCO tonight, no doubt helped by having already played the programme at St Andrews the yesterday.
The replacement for star soloist Christian Tetzlaff, is young Czech violinist Josef Špaček, but he certainly is no second-rate substitute: he has won many of the top violin competitions and played with many of the best orchestras in Europe. As the concert master of the Czech Philharmonic, he is, of course, also very familiar with the Dvořák violin concerto.
The concert begins with the Dvořák violin concerto, which, according to Conrad Wilson’s programme notes, had a difficult birth. Dvořák took advice from the great violinist Joseph Joachim, who encouraged him to revise it to make it more playable. Dvořák duly revised it, and it was first played in Prague in 1883. It certainly is a lovely melodic work, and Špaček shows a deep understanding of it, and a good relationship with both his young Russian conductor and the skilled musicians of the SCO. As a bonus, he gives us part of a concerto by Ysaÿe, which further demonstrates his virtuosity: Špaček is certainly an excellent replacement soloist.
The concert continues after the interval with Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, known as “The Great”. This work also had a difficult birth, as it was deemed too long and unplayable. Indeed, when Mendelssohn premiered it, he cut it, and a London orchestra refused to play it! Yes, it is long, but certainly well worth listening to, with some lovely oboe playing and a mighty climax. Emelyanychev is very much in control of every part of the orchestra.
This may be a second choice concert as far as soloist and conductor are concerned, but it is by no means second rate in performance, and is much appreciated by a large Usher Hall audience.