By BRUCE DENNILL
Viennese New Year’s Concert / Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, conducted by Richard Cock / Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg
Now an annual fixture on Johannesburg’s classical music scene, the Viennese New Year’s Concert, timed for three weeks into the year to allow audiences time to return from holidays, is a wonderfully populist introduction to the season, priming them for the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival (JIMF), which kicks off a week later.
There is significant appeal in the combination of informality – some of it enforced, as the gentlemen were forced to remove their tuxedo jackets thanks to a power failure that took the air conditioning with it – and the friendly communication of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music being played by the every-genial Richard Cock.
The theme for the JIMF this year was folk music, and the programme for this concert reflected that in a number of ways, particularly in the storytelling aspect of pieces by both the Johann Strausses, Franz Lehar and others. There weren’t too many different stories to tell, mind – many of the pieces detailed the results of reckless flirting during masked balls. Randy Austrians …
Soprano Maudee Montierre and tenor Phenye Modiane both did a fine job personifying the characters inhabiting the compositions they were performing, with the latter particularly animated in his renditions.
The orchestra was in fine form throughout, but it was arguably – and ironically – the “novelty” pieces that gave the musicians the best chances to shine. The Pizzicato Polka (just the strings, and only picked, with no bows used) and Perpetuum Mobile (in which the conductor wanders off to hang out with the percussionists as the different sections of the orchestra take turns playing phrases in rounds mimicking the perpetual, machine-generated motion that inspired the piece) were both particularly memorable.
Some classical music aficionados might prefer a more formal, academic approach, but the warmth, humour and mischievousness of this formula makes it an excellent first point of access for music fans wanting to explore the rich traditions of the genre without being made to feel like outsiders.