Bouquets are usually given at the end of a performance, but Karina Canellakis and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra began their concert in TivoliVredenburg with a floral offering, Puccini’s Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums). This closing event in the Avrotros Friday Concert series was supposed to be Verdi’s epic Messa da Requiem, but social distancing – currently 1.5m in the Netherlands – made that impossible, so the small audience was treated to a delightful alternative which still largely featured opera composers in non-operatic mode.

Karina Canellakis © AVROTROS
Karina Canellakis
© AVROTROS

And it was a satisfyingly full evening too – with an interval! – signalling that the immediate future for classical music does not necessarily have to be limited to 60-minute events. The repertoire allowed the performers plenty of space: string quartets scaled up to string orchestra forces; Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, in the version for expanded chamber orchestra; and finally, Brahms’ Second Serenade, in which he sends the entire violin section packing. Canny programming from Canellakis. 

The opera house was never far from mind. Puccini later used two themes from Crisantemi in Acts 3 and 4 of Manon Lescaut, and the strings of the NRPO treated this mournful miniature – just 99 bars – with lavish warmth. Canellakis, who has one of the finest stick techniques in the business, conducted the evening without a baton, allowing her to mould phrases with her hands instead. This didn’t prevent Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor coming off with dramatic ebullience, sharply etched and rhythmically taut. Verdi only composed the quartet for his own amusement whilst a production of Aida was held up in Naples, but it teems with Italian sunshine and deserves outings every bit as often as Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. Canellakis conducted with energy and plenty of smiles, obviously relishing being back on the podium with her orchestra. At times, the Prestissimo third movement was often controlled with little more than a wrist flick, but it rattled along at high speed, punctuated by a songful cello aria in the Trio section. And the finale scampered along… not the last time Verdi would end a work with a scherzo fugue. 

As romantic gifts go, a birthday serenade performed by 13 members of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich on the stairs of your villa must rank pretty highly (assuming Cosima Wagner wasn’t suffering the mother of all hangovers on Christmas Day 1870). Canellakis led a suitably tender performance of the Siegfried Idyll, leisurely paced, teasing out the woodwind lines, with special mention to Ingrid Geerlings (flute) and Aisling Casey (oboe), and a superb horn solo from Petra Botma.

Karina Canellakis conducts the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic © AVROTROS
Karina Canellakis conducts the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
© AVROTROS

Another musical present, Brahms composed his five movement Serenade no. 2 in A major in 1859, dedicating it to Clara Schumann. Considering he was only 26 at the time, it has a remarkably autumnal feel, possibly because the highest string line belongs to the violas. The mellow mood predominates in the first movement and the central Adagio, but there was a good punch to the Scherzo, Canellakis bouncing along, and the players evidently enjoyed the quirky, off-beat Minuet. Brahms finally lets his horns of the leash in the Rondo finale, the playing full of joyous high spirits. This was a programme and performance that struck just the right note as a message of hope and renewal.


This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.

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