A Viennese concert that includes works by Josef Strauss is always going to be serious music-making as well as light entertainment, and it takes an orchestra as great as Opera North’s and a conductor as wise as Jac van Steen to do both.
Their performance of Josef’s Brennende Liebe was a revelation.
This sweetly despairing masterpiece entered quietly in harmonic uncertainty and ended a few minutes – and a life-time of experience – later in an abrupt full-stop. It is just a little polka-mazurka, but it stands alongside Schubert’s songs in its genius. They also showed why Josef’s famous brother Johann Strauss II was admired by Brahms, Wagner and Schoenberg – dark and knowing emotionally ambiguous harmonies under the delightful melodies, particularly in the Blue Danube Waltz.
But such was the quality of the Opera North Orchestra’s musicianship that Lehár’s Gold and Silver Waltz became the most emotionally ambiguous of all. Soprano soloist Sarah Tynan was winning, but underpowered, in the bitter-sweet coloratura aria Frühlingsstimmen, Robert Stolz’s Im Prater and Gershwin’s A Melody by Strauss which just about qualified to be in a Viennese concert.
Compère Mark Forrest, however, was too blandly suburban, a naïf amidst this worldly-wise music, and I will not embarrass either him or you by repeating his two incomprehensible inaccuracies.