Review: New Year in Vienna, Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

THE Vienna Philharmonic and an eminent guest conductor mark New Year’s Day in the Golden Room of the Musikverein with a concert which consists mainly of Strauss waltzes and what might well be called related compositions. Following that tradition, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra turned out yesterday evening to do likewise.

Die Fledermaus is best known of Johann Strauss II’s eighteen theatre works. It opens with a potpourri overture – based on material taken from the operetta. Successful performances call for a sure hand over its many changes of speed and rhythmic freedom. In it and subsequently, conductor Nicholas McGegan did what he could to catch the elusive Viennese idiom and enter into the spirit of the occasion.

His accompaniments to the vocal items sung by Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano) went very well indeed. Léhar’s Vilja (The Merry Widow) and the Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus) stood out for special mention. Miss Xanthoudakis sings clearly, imaginatively and without any of the self-indulgent affectation that sometimes surfaces in well-known solos such as these.

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Strauss II worked The Blue Danube and An Artist’s Life up into suites of five waltzes with introduction and coda, to create concert pieces of some length. In both performances the opening bars contained some fine wind solos, but there was a general lack of poise and balance in McGegan’s over-demonstrative approach elsewhere. The Pizzicato Polka highlighted the problem of audibility in the Usher Hall. It is marked to be played pianissimo for much of the way. The performance brought to mind a comment once made by Sir Thomas Beecham – to the effect that the music was audible, but he could not hear it. In simple terms, what passes as pianissimo in the Queen’s Hall needs to be played louder than that in a bigger auditorium.

Eduard Strauss’s galopp, Express Delivery and his quick polka Track Free! ran smoothly along – as too did the Thunder and Lightning Polka among encores. In keeping with tradition, Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March finished the concert.

For this event to develop in future years, more will be required than straightforward replication of Viennese programming.