Reviewing concerts by young performers can be a tricky business, particularly when the material is highly varied and the way it is played even more so. Whenever I formed an opinion about the cello playing of Pablo Ferrández in today’s concert in Gstaad Chapel, I found myself contradicting it in the following piece. So here are some of the highlights of a concert by a young performer who has great promise but is some way off the finished article.

Pablo Ferrandez © Miguel Bueno
Pablo Ferrandez
© Miguel Bueno

Clearly, working with composer Nicolas Bacri suited Ferrández well, because he and accompanist Luis del Valle gave a superb première of the third of his newly written Quatre élégies, Op. 127, this one entitled Souvenir (“memory”). Something disturbing has clearly happened in this memory, because a lyrical opening is interrupted by a burst of utter violence, followed by a reflective spell and ending on the gentlest of high register pianissimi. Ferrández’s performance was riveting, capturing the swinging moods and perfectly weighted on the ending - the first pianissimo that I thought he had really nailed up to that point. There’s a substantial prize for whichever of the week’s young cellists is a adjudged to have given the best performance of these premières, and (without having seen most of the others), I would guess that this performance would have a decent shot at it.

The Schumann and Tchaikovsky that started the concert, and the Brahms sonata that followed it, were of mixed quality. Generally, Ferrández was comfortable in the forceful passages, giving plenty of fire and expression, and less so in the slower, more reflective passages. One of the delights of listening to cello playing is the shaping of a long line, and too often, Ferrández’s lines didn’t quite keep their shape, with the coherence of the music lost along the way. Luis del Valle’s accompaniment wasn’t always in balance, lacking its own clarity of contours and not quite blending with the cello - but all this was interspersed with passages which came out beautifully, as perfectly measured and in harmony as you might wish.

Ferrández and del Valle were back to their best in the final item (and the only one from their native Spain), an extract from Manuel de Falla’s Seven popular Spanish songs. Not only did they give a great account of the flamenco-infused dance numbers, but they also found a delicacy and poise in the gentle lyrical passages which had escaped them earlier. I imagine that they relaxed both in playing music from their homeland and in the fact that they were on the home straight. For the encore, the swan from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the animals, the control of long line was fully up to standard.

A greater level of consistency and polish is needed, I think, if Ferrández is to make it to stardom - but the possibility is there, evidenced particularly by a memorable performance of Bacri’s short piece.

Update: I have since discovered that Ferrández was suffering from a high fever and a nasty bout of flu during this concert, but went ahead none the less. Plaudits to him for his performance in these circumstances.

***11