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At the Dallas Symphony, a former assistant conductor makes a compelling return

After the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good to see audiences really coming back to live performances. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is doing something right, judging from excellent attendance at recent concerts.

The Friday night audience at the Meyerson Symphony Center was substantial and audibly enthusiastic, and deservedly so. Returning to the podium was Karina Canellakis, an impressive DSO assistant conductor from 2014 to 2016, now with quite an international career. Currently principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (where one of her predecessors was former DSO music director Jaap van Zweden), she’s also principal guest conductor of both the London Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Symphony.

This time as a DSO guest conductor, she led an all-Slavic program: Dvorák’s tone poem The Wood Dove, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with the excellent violinist Randall Goosby) and the Concerto for Orchestra by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Start to finish, Canellakis demonstrated clarity and authority — and a visceral feeling for the music’s textures, shapes and directions.

The Dvorák was inspired by a folk tale about a woman poisoning her husband, falling in love with a younger man, then, overcome with guilt, drowning herself in a river. But you need to know none of that to appreciate the 20-minute succession of muted strings, surprisingly tangy harmonies and jolly tunes, most sympathetically performed.

Between the Dallas and Fort Worth symphony orchestras, we’ve had a rush of violin concertos lately: Beethoven twice, Korngold and now Tchaikovsky. Goosby supplied the technical wizardry that’s pretty much a given with younger violin soloists these day. He tossed off the finale with particular panache, but also spun out satin-finished delicacies in the central Canzonetta. I wondered only if his lingering over introspective first movement episodes didn’t compromise essential coherence.

Violinist Randall Goosby performs with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

Canellakis, herself an accomplished violinist, was a most sympathetic collaborator, as was the orchestra. Goosby rewarded a roaring ovation with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s sassy Louisiana Blues Strut.

Completed in 1954, a decade after Bartók’s work of the same title, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra takes up where its precursor leaves off. Like Bartók, Lutoslawski was inspired by Central European folk tunes and dances, but now they’re fragmented, camouflaged and threaded through textures far more complex than in the earlier work. Where Bartók emphasizes clarity and contrasts, Lutoslawski makes more of counterpoints and layerings of busy sonic activities.

Over the course of three movements, the music makes its way through gruff chuggings and jabs, dissonant pileups, delicate interplays, flitters and flutters and solemn quasi-chorales. The last movement Passacaglia is introduced by detached bass pluckings.

It’s not music to leave you humming tunes, but it’s a virtuoso showpiece for orchestra. Canellakis and the DSO certainly lived up to its challenges, with finely focused tension even in the most hushed moments. The extroversions were sonic spectaculars. Opening counterpoints were heightened with first and second violins divided on left and right of the stage.

The DSO has had a succession of very fine assistant conductors. Friday’s concert certainly showed why Canellakis’ post-DSO career prospers. Repeat performances recommended.

Details

Repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St., Dallas. $26 to $155. 214-849-4376, dallassymphony.org.

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