This Eroica was the third time I’ve watched Karina Canellakis conduct Beethoven – the Seventh with the BBC SO, the Ninth with the Vienna Symphony – and she strikes me as an extremely fine Beethovenian indeed. Here in her role as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, she drew a performance that was urgent, fiery and boldly dramatic. 

Karina Canellakis conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Canellakis’ tempi were on the brisk side and her account had plenty of period instrument manners, although the Funeral March was still permitted its solemnity. Her baton technique is exemplary, a crisp, clear beat, sometimes wristy, sometimes powered from the shoulder, but often drawing the players to look into her eyes. Left-hand gestures were economical. In short, a business-like podium presence without any grandstanding. 

After two symphonies that were almost Haydnesque in style and scale, Beethoven broke the mould with the Eroica. The two fierce stabs that launch the Allegro con brio certainly packed a punch here – short and biting – as did the series of discords later in the opening movement. String ensemble wasn’t always perfectly tight, violins split antiphonally, but they were as sharp as a pin in the restless figures in the Scherzo. The LPO horns demonstrated nimbleness in their Trio spotlight and were also terrific at the climax of the Marcia funebre. Cellos and double basses were gritty, with percussive attack in a spry theme and variations finale which concluded with a most ebullient coda. Plenty of revolutionary fire to delight the packed audience in the Royal Festival Hall. 

Augustin Hadelich, Karina Canellakis and the LPO
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

That fire followed the ice of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor in the first half of the concert, exquisitely performed by Augustin Hadelich. Over the frosty rocking LPO strings, his “Leduc, ex-Szeryng” Guarneri had a dusky, veiled quality in its opening phrases that warmed the chill. His playing had great naturalness – nothing felt forced, never did it seem like he was in competition with the orchestra. His cadenza unfurled poetically, the double-stopping never gruff. 

Hadelich appeared wonderfully involved, clearly caught up in a reverie during the orchestral passages and who can blame him when they were played with such panache, especially the exciting mini-tone poem episodes in the first movement. The woodwind-led introduction to the slow movement was beautifully shaped, echoed by the soft, muted solo colours of the violin. Despite the chugging string rhythms, the finale’s polonaise was lightly negotiated for a spirited conclusion and Hadelich continued the dance theme into his encore, an arrangement of Carlos Gardel’s tango song, Por una Cabeza, seductively played.