MUSIC / Saving the last waltz: Viennese Night - The Proms

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The Independent Culture
The night is for romance, and Strauss nights are for the romance of Vienna. Tuesday's at the Proms began in earnest with Felicity Lott in a lilac-scented garden as a young girl dreaming of home.

The piece in question was 'Draussen in Sievering' from Die Tanzerin Fanny Elssler, Oscar Stalla's medley of tunes from the work of the Waltz- King, Johann Strauss II. Much of the concert was in this vein: schmaltzy soprano arias distilling the local essence of sensual longing. Lott's clean, silvery voice brought distinction to each number. But the feel was less of individual pieces than of a pool of common practice. Laid end to end, these songs would weave the same magic in any order. What counted was the stock of heady tunes, the tinsel of glockenspiel and triangle, and the suave accompaniments in three-quarter time.

Even so, from Franz Joseph's Vienna to Richard Tauber's, there was also a sense of waxing and waning tradition. In 'Du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein' from Robert Stolz's Der Favorit of 1914, the language was 19th-century, yet already leaning to Hollywood gush and glitter with its story of a typist in love. Vocal climaxes lingered on poised discords just a moment too long; the indulgent reprise (for voice and solo violin) brought tears to the eyes with consummate ease.

In like style was Lehar's 'Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss' from Giuditta - more kisses and throbbing eventide. A brusque Spanish phrase suggested Carmen, but the key to it all was a chain of deft sequences, hung in mid- air to ravishing effect. A tryst with a pink domino, Heuberger's 'Im chambre separee' promised more exciting times, yet turned out to be the same old tale of romantic confession. However alluring, there was little to distinguish these pieces but for a change of melody or composer's name.

Something by Johann Strauss I might have shown up the roots of the style, and bridged the gap with Mozart's Haffner Symphony, which was the concert's formal opening. As it was, the Music of the Spheres waltz by Josef Strauss, brother of Johann II and most sensitive of the second generation, stood for the subtle, developed aspect of the school that fascinated Brahms. Clarinet and viola rising from the depths underpinned filigree melody on violins and flutes in a finely judged reading by Franz Welser-Most and the London Philharmonic. Suppe's Light Cavalry overture gave the brass a chance to excel, and the Promenaders to swing with the military beat.

And from the Waltz-King, no waltzes. Instead, a pageant of stylish essays in local colour that confirmed a reputation for brilliant imagination and technical flair. To end, came the Fledermaus overture, hesitant at first, but soon finding its full stride. And in the arena, a couple spontaneously dancing - the sincerest compliment of all.

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