I loved almost everything about last weekend’s performance by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Emory University’s Emerson Concert Hall, part of the school’s Flora Glenn Candler concert series. The group stopped in Atlanta just a few days before a high-profile New York show, and it seems that we got the better performance.
Piotr Anderszewski (left), a wondrous pianist, headlined the evening with two popular Mozart piano concertos, in B-flat (No. 27) and D minor (No. 20). His sound was clear and concentrated, and his every phrase seemed to come loaded with a rich backstory. (Despite the pianist’s talents, I wondered if Emory’s Steinway was acting up a bit.) The pianist was also nominally the conductor in these concertos, which amounted to some time-beating and dramatic gestures when his hands weren’t occupied; violinist Alexander Janiczek, as guest concertmaster, gave most of the cues and, with body language, helped keep everyone together. It was clear, however, that the orchestra and pianist had together rehearsed a refined, taut interpretation.
In the D minor Concerto, he played his own cadenza in the first movement, intricate and blazing. Yet no matter how fiery the playing, the Polish-Hungarian pianist is fundamentally introspective, and in the slow Larghetto of the B-flat Concerto, he created an entire world apart, ravishing and confessional. Anderszewski is the sort of pianist who makes you forget that he’s playing the piano, in the best way — he achieves some higher level of communication. It all felt very intimate, very hand-made.
Janiczek and the orchestra opened with the overture and three scenes from Beethoven’s ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus,” an early, Mozartean work that’s best known today for its themes recycled in the “Eroica” Symphony. With just 37 members, the orchestra played with the robustness and power of a much larger band. By combining modern string and woodwind instruments with valveless, “natural” horns and trumpets, they balance the best of the modern and period-instrument worlds, offering a sound that was crisp, transparent, warm and shapely, both assertive and modest.
Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture was the program’s shout-out to Scotland. Remarkably, Janiczek and the strings slipped into the epic melodies without a leading edge, with notes that were rounded, without bite. It lent a painterly softness of the landscape. The overture’s great second theme, introduced by the cellos, is sometimes called the loveliest melody of the 19th century. Here it was achingly expressed, full of longing.