The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the University’s orchestra-in-residence, commence the second semester’s offering of concerts on the evening of Wednesday 31st January, with a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s majestic Fifth Piano Concerto, the ‘Emperor’. Guest conductor, Clemens Schuldt, takes charge of the ensemble in Younger Hall for what is the third concert of the 2017/18 season in St Andrews with works by twentieth-century Soviet composers, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, completing the programme. To add to the Russian motif, soloist and noted Beethoven performer Elisabeth Leonskaja completes the bill – her status as a ‘great Russian virtuoso’ and ‘a musician who thrives on continuingly finding new depth in everything she plays’, as an SCO press release describes the veteran, promises a truly exciting evening.
The ‘Emperor’ Concerto is the last and probably best-known of the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with its many, familiar stately themes. The piece’s nickname ‘Emperor’ was never coined by the composer himself, but rather was adopted by British audiences in recognition of the strident and august passages that begin after the striking opening chord from the solo instrument, an unconventional feature for a concerto at the time.
The ‘Emperor’ is begun within months in early 1809 and premiered two years later in January 1811 – the date of which can be seen as the end of Beethoven’s prolific middle period prior to his becoming wholly deaf and retiring from performance and conducting.
The middle movement, the serene ‘Adagio un poco mosso’, stands against the piece’s eponymous ceremony, a calm moment in amid the war-torn backdrop of Napoleonic Europe during which the piece was written. The third and final movement, the ‘Rondo: Allegro’ returns to the rambunctious feel of the concerto’s beginning, not least in the gripping finish that is so typical in the composer’s orchestral work.
Schuldt returns with the SCO to St Andrews as ‘one of the most sought after conducting talents in Europe’, having been appointed Principal Conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra back in his native Germany in 2016. The choice to have Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1, the ‘Classical’, a convivial example of early-twentieth century neo-classicism, pastiche-like in its imitations of Mozart and Haydn, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony No.1 with its bleak and at times schizophrenic character, is a jarring one despite the shared native heritage of the pieces. The chance then to see such an extreme variety of repertoire on display by highly prominent names on Wednesday is not to be sniffed at.
Tickets for St Andrews students are £6 in the stalls and can be bought on the Byre Theatre website. The concert begins at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 31st January 2018 in Younger Hall.