, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Viennese Celebration

Elizabeth Cragg and the Halle Orchestra

The Bridgewater Hall, 2 January 2016

The Halle Orchestra. Photo by Russell Hart.

The Halle Orchestra. Photo by Russell Hart.

This very enjoyable concert of Viennese music was a virtual Wienerwald-Rundwanderweg of dance and song.

As with the best such musical journeys, it began and ended with the music of Johann Strauss II, his waltzes and polkas being very much on show throughout. And while The Blue Danube closed the concert in traditional fashion, yet there were a few surprises along the way as well.

‘Exquisite’ is a word that does not quite do justice to Beethoven’s 12 Contredanses, seven of which (numbers 6-12) we heard here. The dances, written originally for a grand ball, give us a sense of Beethoven as sometime servant of the court, as impresario and entertainer, rather than as austere artist. But there is a twist as Gerald Larner’s notes, always a treasure trove of information, explain: the tune to dance number 7 was later used by Beethoven in the last movement of Eroica. He wasted nothing.

Other beautiful works we heard were a waltz sequence taken from Richard Strauss’s  Der Rosenkavalier and Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G Minor. Uplifting both, and the Brahms work had a delight that comes from its intricate folk roots. In Malin Christensson’s late replacement Elizabeth Cragg we were privileged to hear a soprano who could sing both Mozart and Franz Lehar with equal aplomb.

The encore, The Radetzky March, has a chequered history. It was written and performed and very popular during the long reign of the Habsburgs, so much so that Joseph Roth adopted it as the title for his fine novel about their (and Austria’s) collapse. A march that had run its course. Yet it was also a rousing anthem during the Anschluss era, as Thomas Weyr makes clear in The Setting of the Pearl: Vienna under Hitler. Now, the Nazi connotations seem to be well forgotten, not least in Vienna itself.

You couldn’t ask for much more from a concert of Viennese music, really. Perhaps the Bridgewater Hall could have served Gruner Veltliner or Blaufrankisch during the interval – for midway during a journey shouldn’t you be able to refresh yourself at a Heurige? – but that’s about it.

The Halle Orchestra will be performing the same or a similar programme elsewhere in January, and details of these and all future concerts can be found here.

Elizabeth Cragg’s website is here.