New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, The Dome, Brighton
Saturday 31 December 2017

Maybe it was New Year’s Eve falling on a weekend, but the Dome seemed even more alive than usual for the traditional Viennese Gala from Brighton Philharmonic, this year in the capable hands of Stephen Bell. His Christmas cracker jokes strike just the right note between the musical items and the orchestra not only responded with enthusiasm but came dressed for the occasion.

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Soprano Rebecca Bottone was a delight throughout. Her high coloratura sparkled in Josef Strauss’ Dorfschwalben aus Osterreich and later in Sparenklange. Between these we heard Lehar’s Love live for ever and the Vilja lied. An unusual choice for New Year was her nicely tongue-in-cheek rendition of Poor Wand’ring One – Sullivan does not normally get a look in here but his pastiche worked well alongside the German masters.

The second half brought us closer to home with Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz and Eric Coates’ Mayfair Waltz – neither of them particularly familiar but certainly not out of place. Another rarity was the charming arrangement of Stars in my eyes which allowed us to hear a solo from leader John Bradbury. He started with hints of the Hungarian gypsy music which he plays so well before relaxing into the romantic tones of Kreisler’s composition.

If the above seems to imply there was a lack of more familiar Viennese music then the reality was far from it. The afternoon opened with the Act 3 March from Strauss II’s Der Zigeunerbaron, and the gentle delicacy of the polka Die Libelle – the dragonfly. We heard the Gold and Silver Waltz, and the Trisch-Trasch-Polka. Waldteufel’s Estudiantina brought real castanets and Strauss II’s Cuckoo Polka delighted with cuckoo and bird song. The strings proved their worth in the Pizzicato Polka and we did our bit in the Radetzky March.

The final item of the published programme was the Emperor Waltz – not, as Stephen Bell noted, The Blue Danube. It made sense. I suspect most of the audience will have listened to or recorded the concert this morning from the Musikverein in Vienna, to say nothing of endless repeats on Classic FM. The Emperor Waltz is a masterpiece in its own right and fully deserved to form the climax of the matinee. There was, of course, an encore, with Rebecca Bottone singing Il Bacio¸ and the inevitable Radetzky March before we went on our way.

Let us hope there is as large a gathering on Sunday 15 January for Rossini’s Overture: The Barber of Seville, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, all under Ben Gernon.

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