THE dynamic young conductor Karina Canellakis made an indelible impression on a packed audience at Sage Gateshead when she directed Royal Northern Sinfonia in a programme of music celebrating the season’s theme of song and dance.

The concert opened with a breezy rendition of Haydn’s German Dances, as arranged by Austrian composer Bernhard Paumgartner. Canellakis was alive to the score’s every nuance, teasing out some delightful detail.

Her conducting style was elegant with every gesture carrying a meaning, as she negotiated nimble turns of phrase, thrilling bursts of acceleration and lilting dances.

Guest soloist Katrien Baerts was indisposed through illness, but Gillian Keith stepped in at short notice to give a dazzling account of Schubert’s Jahreszeiten. It was a version arranged for orchestra and Canellakis sensitively balanced the musical forces with Keith’s lyrical delivery.

Keith may have been familiar with Schubert’s songs, but had only a few days to prepare for her demanding part in the UK premiere of Jorg Widmann’s Versuch über die Fug.

It was a challenge she rose to with aplomb, making a compelling case for the work. The score included instructions for the string players to whip their bows through the air and on occasion gasp audibly. It certainly tested the mettle of oboist Steve Hudson, who handled intricate runs with some deft fingerwork.

The programme was rounded off with a pulsating account of Schubert’s Symphony No 5. Canellakis took the unusual step of placing the woodwinds in the front of the orchestra, where they could shine with some ravishing passages. The orchestra romped home with an exuberant climax.

The post-concert Spotlight fell on bassist Sian Hicks and cellist Gabriel Waite, who presented the rarely-played Four Pieces on One Note by Italian composer Giancinto Scelsi. It featured the same note played on different strings, each sounding different to the other. Mikhail Bukinik’s Fantaisie, written for his double bass friend Serge Koussevitzky rounded off a stimulating evening.