Orchestra: Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor: Paul Daniel
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The second of three performances of Viennese Whirl brought the Orchestra of Opera North to their regular concert base, Huddersfield Town Hall. The orchestra’s previous concert there was helmed by Opera North’s music director-designate Garry Walker, the sixth to take on this role. The Vienna New Year concert was in the hands of a distinguished predecessor, the company’s second music director, Paul Daniel (1990-97).
Those who recall the intensity which Daniel could bring to performances may well have found his relaxed and carefree demeanour something of a surprise, but fully appropriate to a concert of this nature. The opener, however, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, showed typical energy and rhythmic precision. Starting with a piece by a Czech composer showed that the programme interpreted “Viennese” fairly loosely, especially when the second item was written in Hollywood in 1953. However, Eric Korngold’s Straussiana proved a loving recollection of the Vienna of his youth, re-settings of three little known Strauss melodies and – for the first two at least – surprisingly delicate from the composer of such epic film scores as Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
In fact it was not until the fifth item on the programme that the Strauss family made its appearance. This was due to the very welcome programming of two songs in each half from Gavan Ring, well known to Opera North audiences as a baritone, newly reinvented as a tenor. His confident upper register and romantic tone in two of Franz Lehar’s songs for the great Richard Tauber confirmed his successful vocal transformation, while his final number brought the house down with a Neapolitan, rather than a Viennese, favourite, Torna a Surriento.
The Viennese waltzes and polkas were mainly from the pen of Johann Strauss II, with only one number from his talented, but much less prolific, brother, Josef. The programme included no item from the elder Johann, but the absence of both his Radetsky March and Johann II’s Blue Danube suggested that two encores were planned – and so it proved, with the Strausses at their most elegant and most hand-clappingly populist rounding off a splendid concert.
Johann Strauss II was represented by a cleverly planned programme, his numbers often grouped together for contrast: the lively, almost comical Tritsch Tratsch leading into the melodically fertile Voices of Spring, for instance. Both halves of the concert were well paced, the second building up to the thunder-sheet and assorted percussion of the Thunder and Lightning Polka, the interval piece, rather surprisingly, the Finale to Gaite Parisienne, a ballet based on the music of Jacques Offenbach, a series of galops culminating in the most famous of all, with the conductor sketching in a parody of an arthritic cancan.
Alongside the Strauss favourite it was good to hear a couple of less well known examples of the polka schnell, Strauss moving from society ballroom to celebrate improvements in electricity or the fun of an excursion train. The wonderfully titled Vergnugungszug (Pleasure Train) was rightly described in the programme as “a brilliant novelty piece” and gave the percussion section a happy excuse to play at trains.
With Paul Daniel’s amiable introductions often painlessly informative between the quips and the orchestra combining discipline with exuberance, it was as good a way as any to see out the old year – and a good deal more cheerful than 2019 deserved.
Reviewed on 30th December 2019