A Night in Vienna
Perth Concert Hall
cond. Matthias Bamert
reviewed by Neville Cohn
It was every concert promoter’s dream: a new concert format that so engaged the interest of the public that the response at the box office was overwhelming And how!
For its first ever Gala Night in Vienna, based on the Austrian capital’s famous New Year’s Day concerts, the WASO drew so many who wished to attend the event that hundreds were turned away.
With this level of support, the WASO beancounters are considering mounting the event on an annual basis. As well, they might think of arranging for it to be repeated on the following Sunday, say at 4pm, which would bring the presentation more in line with the Vienna presentations – and also drawing elderly folk who might balk at turning out at night in midwinter.
Front, rear and organ stalls and both galleries were packed to capacity at the weekend. Lavish floral displays on either side of the platform, below the conductor’s podium and almost completely obscuring the organ seat and keyboard in the choir stalls lent a festive air to the proceedings. So, too, did the colourful silk sashes worn by many of the women of the WASO which made a pleasing contrast to their conventionally austere, all-black garb. Male musos sported red roses in their lapels. And on each seat in the auditorium was a tiny white, red-ribboned box containing a to-die-for chocolate confection.
There were lashings of music by Johann Strauss the Younger, all time-tested favourites that, no matter how frequently heard, seem never to pall. (Strauss, incidentally, is one of the most prolific composers who ever lived; his output fills more than 43 CDs – and still coming!).
Of the music, this: even if, in the waltzes on offer, that elusive, idiosyncratic Viennese lilt was not as ubiquitous as one might have hoped, the inherent charm of these pieces – The Blue Danube, Voices of Spring and Leichtes Blut – worked their magic. In the Kaiser Waltz, principal cellist Rod McGrath’s all-too-brief solo was an object lesson in what stylish, expressive phrasing is all about. Horns did themselves proud throughout the evening, no more so than in The Blue Danube.
With Matthias Bamert presiding over events, the overture to Die Fledermaus unfolded in all its carefree splendour with oboist Joel Marangella at his persuasive best. And bracing attack by cellos and double basses made Strauss’ faux zigeuner overture to The Gypsy Baron memorable. But it was in the two-beats-in-a-bar polkas that Bamert gave us readings that had the stamp of authenticity, not least the engaging Annen-Polka and the Champagne Polka, which Bamert conducted with empty champagne glass in hand as Tim White did wonders in simulating the sound of popping corks. Here, and throughout the evening, Bamert provided an engaging linking commentary.
Soprano Sara Macliver was a glamorous presence in the celebrated Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus, her fearless attack admirable as she negotiated a tricky vocal line that was clearly defined and pinpoint-pitched. But there was some loss of vocal power in the lower reaches of the range in Voices of Spring.
Before the second half of the program commenced, WASO CEO Keith Venning came onstage and spoke warmly of the generous support the orchestra derives from its sponsors – Wesfarmers Arts, Emirates and The West Australian. A competition run via coupons in The West drew a phenomenal 52,000 entries from those hoping to win a return flight to Vienna courtesy of Emirates – and a representative of the airline presented the tickets to the lucky winner who was clearly delighted to receive the prize – and on her birthday, too! In Vienna, the winner will be hosted by the Austrian Tourist Board.
This was a first-rate instance of how effectively business and the arts can work together.
Copyright 2004 Neville Cohn