Dvořák’s B minor Cello Concerto and Mahler’s First Symphony have little in common beyond the Bohemian origins of their composers, but they made a fruitful coupling in this concert in which the LPO was conducted by its new principal guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, making his first appearance in the role. It comes as a bit of a surprise to realise that the concerto is the later work, composed in the mid-1890s and almost a decade after the symphony – so an autumnal work by an established elderly statesman of central European music meeting a springlike awakening from a young twenty-something keen to prove his mettle.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada © Werner Kmetitsch
Andrés Orozco-Estrada
© Werner Kmetitsch
The soloist in the Dvořák was German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, who at his first entrance eased himself into the composer’s glorious ream of melody against a background of welcoming warmth from the orchestral strings. He initially struggled with a recalcitrant cello spike that refused to stay where it should, but once settled on firmer footing his playing grew in both confidence and intensity, finding the darkness as well as the free-flowing joy of Dvořák’s music. His tonal variety and subtlety, at their most impressive in his wistful way with the slow movement, was matched in the orchestra, where Orozco-Estrada drew every ounce of limpid lyricism from the textures, revealing details of instrumentation all too rarely heard, and conjured up deep, trombone-crowned sonority for the climaxes.

The LPO seems to have quite a find on its hands with its appointment of Colombian-born Orozco-Estrada, who is also in charge at the Houston Symphony and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. His account of the Mahler had the mark both of an inquiring mind capable of revealing new perspectives on the music and of an interpreter with the full confidence to put them into action. It’s rare to sense in performance such a well-delineated exposé of the composer’s structural and thematic tricks, without feeling one is having everything spelled out in capital letters. Motivic connections between themes were highlighted with subtle inflections of articulation, colour and texture, and the structure – particularly the ebb and flow of the finale’s darkness-to-light journey – was shaped with real mastery.

The LPO played its collective socks off, too, in a performance as impressive at the localised level of solo roles as in the sheer power of the tuttis. From the atmospherically placed offstage trumpets and double bassist Kevin Rundell’s beautifully pale-coloured Frère Jacques theme to the clarinet ‘cuckoos’ that urge the world to life at the beginning and the piercing piccolos at the apocalyptic opening of the finale, this was an account that teased and thrilled the senses. It was also a presentation that was faithful to Mahler’s onorous instrumental demands, many of which are not always honoured to this extent. So the woodwinds dutifully pointed their ‘bells in the air’ in the scherzo, and the eight horns performed their snarled staccatos with their instruments held horizontally – neither of which is easy for the musicians, as any crick-necked clarinettist or arm-stretched horn-player will tell you. And at the climax of the symphony, the horns stood as instructed, joined in their blazing, triumphant chorale by a fourth trombonist, who had silently sat through the whole symphony, half a stage away from her heavy-brass colleagues, waiting for this moment of glory. A detail, perhaps, but one that epitomised the evening’s blend of meticulousness and inspiration.