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2019-20 Concert Reviews

Jealousy, Loss, Murder and Music in Vienna Woods

[Last Saturday] Shropshire Music Trust presented a splendid concert in the United Reformed Church, featuring Emma Johnson and friends, the Carducci Quartet and Classic FM presenter and writer John Suchet.

The music featured composers working in Vienna during the first part of the 19th century: Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss and Léhar.

The sparkling performances were enhanced by projected pictures of Vienna, its cafes, salons and streets and the personalities involved such as Emperor Franz Josef, Field Marshall Radetzky, Marie Theresa and the composers. It made such a difference to have the music put in the context of the period. During the afternoon the Carducci also presented a wonderful family concert ‘Pirates and Princesses’ – an inspiring interactive introduction to music and the sound world of the string quartet, to a church full of eager children some bringing along instruments and others sporting some impressive dressing up!

John Suchet told us that due to wars all across Europe, composers and artists had flocked to Vienna, the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Beethoven’s music was first performed in cafés and he was then invited to perform at the Burgtheater where the first performance of his Septet in E flat major in six movements was given a resounding reception as it was a very different kind of music to earlier composers like Mozart. One of Beethoven’s friends was a clarinet player and he wrote the part for him. Throughout the piece the wind players, clarinet, horn and bassoon, answered the strings in a sublime musical conversation interwoven with tutti passages. The lyrical clarinet tune in the second movement was beautifully interpreted and again it is almost a duet with the rich tones of the first violin.

Schubert was asked to compose a piece like Beethoven’s and produced his famous Octet in F major the Adagio of which mirrors Beethoven’s. Although Brahms wrote wonderful symphonies, concerti and the German Requiem, in his lifetime he made his money from his popular Hungarian dances with their driving rhythms and catchy tunes, played with great panache by this ensemble.

John Suchet recounted that Johann Strauss the Elder was so jealous of his son that he tried to have his concerts stopped by the authorities and that only his Radetzky March and one waltz, Fruhlingsstimmen, are played today, whilst his son’s waltzes are still immensely popular. The Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, meaning gossip, was composed by Johann the younger after he returned to Vienna from Russia after a love affair, forbidden by the girl’s parents. The Kaiser-Walzer reflected the tragic family life of Emperor Franz Josef, the last Hapsburg. First his daughter died young, then the Crown Prince shot his teenage lover and then himself at a hunting lodge at Mayerling. Then the Empress was assassinated with a stiletto while boarding a boat on Lake Geneva. The Emperor’s next heir was Archduke Ferdinand who was assassinated in Sarajevo and so began the First World War.

This concert encompassed thrilling performances with interesting background stories which brought it all to life and was rapturously received by the audience.

Ruth Anderson, March 2020

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