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.