Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO / Canellakis @ Royal Festival Hall, London

1 December 2021

Second time lucky as the LPO delights on the Southbank.


Karina Canellakis (Photo: Mark Allan)

Having been forced to miss American conductor Karina Canellakis’ debut as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s new Principal Guest Conductor the previous Saturday, due to industrial action on the Tube, we were delighted to be able to attend the second – a pairing of Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony – since the results were thrilling.

It was clear from the piano’s first entry – the opening theme boldly accented – that soloist Stephen Hough’s reading was going to be forthright, clear, and muscular. Initially this came as a bit of a shock, but Hough’s interpretation convinced throughout the entire concerto. The first movement’s dazzling, virtuosic coda, dispatched by Hough with apparent ease, led into a wonderfully rich, achingly beautiful Largo. The Rondo: Allegro saw a return to the bold, impetuous playing which had ignited the first movement, and the fire burned equally brightly here, as he drove the work to its inexorable conclusion. This was playing on an exalted level, that dug deep into the work, highlighting details we hadn’t heard before. Hough was ably supported by Canellakis, who opted for a hybrid orchestra (hard timps, valveless trumpets), the sound authentically thrilling, conducted with a forward propulsion that never sounded rushed.


Stephen Hough (Photo: Mark Allan)

After the interval we were treated to a coruscating performance of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. Canellakis opted for a very measured tempo for the opening – an approach that in less-experienced hands could have caused tension to sag – yet she never allowed this to happen. Indeed, she kept a firm grip on proceedings – her beat is wonderfully clear, her left hand expressive in moulding phrases, and pulling out detail from her players – climaxes never felt brash but grew organically out of the rich orchestral texture. Maintaining such masterly control throughout the first movement’s 25 minute length is no mean feat, but she managed it effectively.

“…soloist Stephen Hough’s reading was going to be forthright, clear, and muscular”

The second movement (Allegro) had colossal guts and fire, screaming woodwind, braying brass, but it never felt hurried. She captured the shifting moods of the third (Allegretto) to perfection and was rewarded with some mesmerising horn playing by Diego Incertis Sánchez. The final movement, with its nod back to the opening of the work, was deftly handled – while the headlong drive to the symphony’s explosive conclusion was properly breathtaking. All sections of the LPO played out of their skins for her. And while it may seem invidious to pick out a couple of players, given the overall excellence of all the musicians on the platform, we must give a special mention to Benjamin Mellefont (clarinet), and Jonathan Davies (bassoon) for their exemplary, world-class playing throughout – their many contributions were truly magnificent.

The evening’s concert was dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s former Principal Conductor (1967-79), Bernard Haitink. In the programme notes, Canellakis recalls her time studying with the great Dutch conductor, and the support and help he gave her. It’s hard to think of a more fitting tribute than this superb performance of work so dear to the maestro’s heart. But not only that – it gave notice of a musical partnership that looks set to be one of the most exciting and rewarding in London.

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