The MPO starts the year with a concert as fluffy and sweet as a Viennese cream coffee

The late evening shower did not dampen the spirits of those who turned up for the MPO’s first concert of the year 2002. In the tradition of the grand New Year balls that are as much a part of Vienna as the Strauss family, the orchestra’s repertoire for the evening reflected the light and celebratory mood that heralds new beginnings and wonderful things to come.

Earlier this month Music Director and Conductor Kees Bakels’ selection ran the gamut of Vienna’s best offerings, setting the tone for the evening with a rousing rendition of Franz von Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture. The instantly familiar piece was performed with much gusto by the orchestra and made all the more moving by a well-executed clarinet solo.

The brothers Strauss – Johann II (author of the famous Blue Danube Waltz) and Josef (neither of whom is related to German composer Richard Strauss) – dominated the evening with seven pieces between them. There were lively, fast-paced polkas like Josef’s Feuerfest! (Fireproof) and Plappermäulchen (Blabber-mouths) along with Johann’s Eljen a Magyar! (Hail to Hungary), the last piece ending with an exclamation from the orchestra. Two of Johann’s operettas – the multi-faceted Overture to Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron) and the animated Czardas from Ritter Pázmán – were featured as well.

Johann and Josef Strauss worked together to produce a total of four compositions in their lifetimes, the best known of these being the Pizzicato Polka which showcased the rather unique sounds of strings being plucked as opposed to being played with the bow. The string section turned in an admirable performance of this piece, as was evident in the appreciative applause that followed.

Polkas and operettas aside, the Strauss family is best known for their waltzes and in this, the MPO did not disappoint. From Johann’s dreamy Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring) to Josefs evocative Sphären-Klänge (Music of the Spheres), the orchestra was clearly in its element during these beautiful, sweeping dances.

Besides the Strauss family, the orchestra also performed Karel Komzak’s waltz of 1898, Bäd’ner Mad’ln; Franz Lehar’s Gold and Silver Waltz; Carl Michael Ziehrer’s waltz Herreinspaziert!; and Richard Heuberger’s Overture to Der Opernball (the Opera Ball).

However, it was the maestro himself who ultimately stole the show with his wry sense of humour. His witty introductions to the pieces provided the audience with entertaining (and little-known) nuggets of information about the composition as well as the composer. When an audience member’s mobile phone rang mid-way through one of his introductions, Bakels, without batting an eyelid, said, “If that’s my wife, tell her I’m not here.”

The evening ended with a double encore. The first was Josef Strauss’ Jockey Polka; an apt choice to commemorate the fact that the KLCC now stands on what was once a racecourse. The final piece, and the sole composition of Johann Strauss I to be featured that evening, was the Radetzky March. It was an infectious tune and Bakels encouraged the audience to clap along in time to the music, turning to “conduct” them at regular intervals, much to the delight of those who came expecting the more sober proceedings that are associated with orchestral concerts. A sign, perhaps, of greater things to come from Maestro Bakels and the MPO?


First Published: 22.01.2002 on Kakiseni

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