Halle Orchestra, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

The Hallé Orchestra's New Year Celebration from Vienna certainly had some of the more agreeable ingredients of the annual Musikverein event on which it is based. Showing no sign of any post-festive jaded palate, the orchestra had these waltzes, polkas and marches at its fingertips. The cello solo in Suppé's Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna overture, played with a magically contained eloquence by Jonathan Aasgard, was a highlight not only of the opening piece but of the whole evening.

Sarah Fox has a pure, pretty soprano voice, at its best in the delicate "Vilja" from The Merry Widow, though a little overwhelmed in Rosalinde's Csardas from Die Fledermaus. It was more or less drowned by the orchestra in "I could have danced all night" from My Fair Lady. This was introduced by the conductor as being sung in German (it might as well have been) and replaced Stolz's "Waltzing in the Clouds". It stood out uncomfortably in a programme planned with some attention to authenticity.

But it takes more than a beguiling account of Lehar's "Gold and Silver Waltz" to make a Viennese evening glitter. Sheen and sparkle are all very well, but it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing and easy sentiment is no substitute for an intuitive sense of what this music means. John Wilson, at home with light repertoire, has not yet developed a natural conducting style to match the perfectly credible sounds which the players produce for him. Nor has he stretched himself beyond filling the audience with bits of Geordie patter and misinformation. It's a Viennese night, for goodness sake, not music hall.

Barbirolli, apparently his hero on the Viennese front, was actually Companion, not Citizen, of Honour. The version of Strauss the younger's "Blue Danube Waltz" we heard was not the original one, unless he simply forgot to bring on the gentlemen's choir. (Music as naturally beautiful as this really doesn't need a plea for an intelligent audience to listen to it with fresh ears, either.) And despite his claim to have chosen a slower tempo for the elder Strauss's "Radetzky March", it sounded just as it always does - infectious in its aplomb.

The Hallé's catchwords are breathtaking, thrilling, inspiring, but this concert was none of those. The large audience seemed to enjoy it well enough but, given the orchestra's current outstanding form and attention to detail in all other aspects of its music-making, its Viennese celebration deserves better. Next year, let's hope Mark Elder follows the example of Barbirolli, who felt it was the responsibility of the orchestra's own music director to bring these sophisticated tunes to life. Or perhaps the Hallé's highly promising assistant conductor, Edward Gardner, would bring out the stylistic authenticity frustratingly absent on this occasion.