Welsh National Opera Orchestra, New Year Concert: Return to Vienna – Wednesday January 11th 2023 at the Hall for Cornwall, Truro

A joyful evening with a warm intimate atmosphere, despite the large audience, was created last night by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra on tour. Different members of the orchestra stepped forward and told us about each piece, often with entertaining anecdotes and jokes. This all added to the fun and sense of celebration, fed by those most sparkling of melodies, familiar to all, which enlivened nineteenth century Vienna and still casts a sprinkling of good-humoured magic today.

The large orchestra was led by concertmaster David Adams, the lead violinist who kept the orchestra together with his bow, his head and even his feet at times. Just occasionally, where there were extreme changes in pace, he allowed the other first violinists to hold the fort and stood up to conduct for a few bars. This, however, was an orchestra used to each other and the programme, who were admirably together in both timing and obvious enjoyment.

The programme began with three pieces from Johann Strauss II’s The Gypsy Baron. It made for a rousing opening and featured the first of five arias sung by baritone Dafyyd Allen, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music and finalist in the 2022 Welsh Singers Competition. From the quality and variety of his singing tone this is a young man destined to go far. Here was a swashbuckling opening from the Gypsy Baron himself, but ‘My yearning, My Obsession’ from Korngold’s The Dead City showed Allen’s range and ability to show tenderness, while his rendering of the character of the famous violinist and composer Paganini, well known as a lover of women, captures the character of the boastful lothario well in Lehar’s aria ‘Girls were made to love and kiss’ from the opera Paganini.

Works by Johann Strauss II took up the most part of the programme but there were two pieces by Josef Strauss, including a polka called Chatterboxes, based on the prattling of the composer’s own ten-year-old daughter. The piece was a lot of fun and sounded exactly like its title.

Fun was the key word for the whole evening. Particular high spots were another Johann Strauss II piece, a polka entitled In Krapfen’s Woods, which featured a cuckoo and other trilling birds, rendered by a soloist who moved around the audience and ended up cuckooing in the ears of the cellos and double basses. At the end the rousing and familiar Radetzky March by Johann Strauss, taken at a rattling pace, had the cellists whirling their instruments like ballerinas on points.

Hard not to envisage whirling waltzers too dancing around the floor during the famous Blue Danube, a piece of music even envied by Strauss’s friend Johannes Brahms who, when Strauss dedicated his waltz Be Embraced, You Millions to him, wrote in Strauss’s daughter’s autograph book the first two musical lines of The Blue Danube followed by the words ‘Alas! Not by Johannes Brahms.’ There can be no greater accolade for a piece of music that has delighted millions and is famous the world over.

I had friends who didn’t want to come to such a ‘light’ programme but they lost a treat by missing it, and luckily there were many who came just because the pieces are familiar, knowing that a live performance is so very different always from a recording: so much more alive and exciting, fed by the build up of concentration from players and audience into a fizzing celebration. We all left feeling, as the concert master David Adams had said when he introduced Be Embraced, You Millions, that we’d received a warm hug to take us through a cold January and beyond.

This article was previously published on Lark Reviews.