In concert – CBSO / Eduardo Strausser – Viennese New Year


Johann Strauss II Die Fledermaus (1874) – Overture; Tritsch-Tratsch, Op. 214 (1858)
Johann Strauss II / Josef Strauss Pizzicato Polka, Op. 335 (1869)
Lehár Die lustige Witwe (1905) – Vilja
Johann Strauss II Vergnügungszug, Op. 281 (1863-4); Im Krapfenwald’l, Op. 336 (1869); Frühlingsstimmen, Op. 410 (1882); Die Zigeunerbaron (1885) – Einzegsmarsch
Lehár Giuditta (1934) – Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiss
Johann Strauss II Wiener Bonbons, Op. 307 (1866)
Josef Strauss Feuerfest!, Op. 269 (1869)
Johann Strauss II Die Fledermaus (1874) – Mein Herr Marquis; Unter Donner und Blitz, Op. 324 (1868); An der schönen, blauen Donau, Op. 314 (1866)
Johann Strauss I Radetzky Marsch, Op. 228 (1848)

Jennifer France (soprano), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Eduardo Strausser

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Sunday 9 January 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The global reach of the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual event, not to mention the world-wide jamborees masterminded by André Rieu, may have rendered the Viennese New Year concert  from a wholly new perspective, but its content and purpose remain essentially the same – as was evident in this concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which has long emerged from its Christmas break with such a programme as was performed this afternoon; a smattering of novelties complementing the evergreens whose absence would be unthinkable.

His introductions may have been intermittent, but Brazilian conductor Eduardo Strausser was an engaging exponent of Johann Strauss II’s music – not least the overture to his operetta The Bat that, after a halting start, unfolded with a sure sense of where this ingenious medley of its main items was headed. The rhythmic verve of the Tritsch-Tratsch polka was exactly caught, as also the nonchalance of the Pizzicato polka (in collaboration with Josef Strauss, too often neglected next to his famous sibling). Jennifer France joined the CBSO for a winning take on the ‘Vilja’ aria from Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, hearing it in English a reminder of this operetta’s massive success on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the heady élan of Strauss’s Excursion Train polka then the rustic charm of his In Krapfen’s Woods polka – its plethora of birdcalls effortlessly dispatched by the orchestra’s percussion – she returned for the Voices of Spring waltz, heard in its unexpected while effective vocal guise with verse by Robert Genée which made for a concert aria such as brought this first half to its close in impressive fashion.

The Entrance March from Strauss’s operetta The Gypsy Baron provided a suitably rousing entrée into the second half, Jennifer France duly raising the stakes with her sensual reading of the aria My lips give so fiery a kiss from Léhar’s musical comedy Giuditta, then Strausser drew unexpected pathos from Strauss’s Vienna Bonbons waltz – its title belying the music’s elegance and subtlety; quite a contrast, indeed, with Josef Strauss’s roof-raising Anvil polka-française (and a favourite of this writer since first encountering it on an anthology from the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra decades ago). The scintillating repartee of My lord marquis (aka Adele’s Laughing Song) from The Bat enabled Jennifer France to bow out in fine style, then it was on to the rip-roaring swagger of the Thunder and Lightning polka that once more kept the percussion section fully occupied.

The advertised programme came to an end with On the Beautiful Blue Danube waltz – a piece which never quite measures up to its evocative opening, even though Strausser drew enticements aplenty from the CBSO players. There followed the inevitable encore of Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March, early regarded as having immortalized the Field Marshal who, as a master tactician (and putative war criminal) helped to maintain the Habsburg Empire’s dominance longer than might otherwise have been the case. Not an issue for those who clapped along to Strausser’s alert prompting, rounding off in fine style the start to this second half of the CBSO’s season which continues this Thursday with Ryan Bancroft for a programme featuring Coleridge-Taylor, Mendelssohn and Sibelius.

For more information on the forthcoming Ryan Bancroft concert, you can visit the orchestra’s website. Meanwhile click on the links for information on Eduardo Strasser and Jennifer France.

Classical music in Squid Game

by Ben Hogwood

I thought I would offer a quick, spoiler-free blog on the use of classical music in Netflix’s most-successful drama ever, Squid Game. The Korean morality tale has been a huge hit through the originality of its storylines, the quality of its acting, and the jaw-dropping directness of its violent game and fight scenes.

What has probably passed under the radar is its frequent use of classical music. To start with it is piped to the game players by as they try to rest / avoid death between the games, and as they prepare for another tension-laden stint in the games room. Soon it becomes front and centre of the action itself. There are three main pieces used:

Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E flat major, 3rd movement

This is heard in the first episode, when the players gain consciousness of the new setting they find themselves in:

Tchaikovsky Waltz from Serenade for Strings in C major

This is doubtless meant to be a calming presence in the background while the players begin their formative friendships / relationships / grudges. It proves to be a deceptively graceful backdrop:

Johann Strauss II On The Beautiful Blue Danube

The clincher. This has been used in many a film of course, and even in The Simpsons (when Homer eats potato chips in space!) but here it takes on an unexpectedly sinister air. Occasionally it can be triumphant – towards the end of a game for instance – but its first appearance is the lasting one, from the terrifying first game, where the players realise just how high the stakes are going to be:

It is intriguing how the producers of Squid Game keep classical music in reserve for these moments, and use specially commissioned music from Jung Jae-il to describe scenes and events elsewhere in the drama. In doing this they create very different and effective backdrops that only add to the tension in a thoroughly gripping series!