Edward Bhesania hears the performance of Brahms, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 21 February 2024 


Electrifying Shostakovich from Pablo Ferrández and the LPO. Photo: London Philharmonic Orchestra

On the day the London Philharmonic Orchestra announced that Karina Canellakis’s contract as principal guest conductor had been renewed for a further three years, they appeared together in a concert contrasting a Russian first half with Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in the second. The opening Prelude (‘Dawn on the Moscow River’) from Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina unfolded with a keen narrative quality, beautifully balancing richness and definition.

Pablo Ferrández was the fourth prize winner at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition and proved an assured interpreter of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto no.1 in E flat major. There was plenty of bounce to the bow in the opening of the first movement and Ferrández attacked his second entry with great emotional power. The LPO strings oozed warmth in the dark opening of the Moderato, after which Ferrández managed to combine lyrical radiance with deep uncertainty. His theme in harmonics, icy and precise, with celesta responses, was eerie in the extreme. The following cadenza movement was compelling and the dramatic high point, after which orchestra and soloist vividly projected the grotesquerie of the finale.

Brahms’s Fourth brought an ideal, modern – or at least newer-style – approach. Given there was no skimping on lyricism, the lines and textures were remarkably transparent and the forms pliable. On this showing, the continuing LPO/Canellakis partnership should reap attention-grabbing musical rewards.