Review: Viennese new year

Simon Hale gets 2022 underway at Symphony Hall.

The new year may have already been a week old, but the CBSO’s 2022 concert opener confirmed it is never too late to enjoy a Viennese whirl.

The orchestra’s offering at Symphony Hall brimmed with vivacity and joy as the afternoon audience lapped up the tuneful works of Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehar.

Leading the fun was Brazilian Eduardo Strausser, who almost danced his way through the polkas and waltzes as he conducted from the podium with enthusiastic expression.

Putting the pandemic behind it, the party mood fizzed from the start through the all-encompassing melodies in the overture from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, whose comic entanglements result from a surfeit of champagne.

With none of the pieces in the programme longer than ten minutes, the concert raced along especially in its series of theme-based Strauss favourites, including Tritsch-Tratsch (Gossip), Im Krapfenwald (In the Wine Garden) and Vergnugungzug (Excursion Train).

Wiener Bon-Bons (Vienna Sweets) even brought the theme of Viennese confectionary to the concert hall. A waltz originally written for the Imperial palace in the 1860s, it was all the sweeter for being fleeting.

The concert also saw the return of soprano Jennifer France, glitteringly attired in a long sequin dress, as soloist in the two works by Lehar: Vilja from The Merry Widow and Meine lippen, sie kussen so heiss (My lips they kiss so hot) from Giuditta (in German).

The hall’s superb acoustics captured her every word as the audience seemed justifiably enraptured by her beautiful singing and expressive stage presence.

France also did full justice to Strauss’s Fruhlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring – often known as The Laughing Song) Waltz and Mein Herr Marquis from Die Fledermaus, in which a masked Adele dupes her husband into thinking she is their chambermaid.

The programme concluded with thrilling performances of the Strauss favourites Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lighting) and The Blue Danube, the latter originally written as a morale booster after Austria lost to Prussia in The Seven Weeks War.

The excellent CBSO – with extra credit awarded to its standout percussion section – played the Radetsky March by Johann Strauss I as an encore. Named after Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, the work commemorated an earlier Austrian battle victory.

Just as the soldiers who took part showed their appreciation at the first performance of the March by clapping wildly throughout, the CBSO audience enjoyed putting their hands together too – but in a more disciplined fashion under Strausser’s direction.

The CBSO returns to Symphony Hall on Thursday, January 13th with a programme of music by Sibelius, Mendelssohn, and Coleridge-Taylor: