Viennese Night was a staple feature of Hallé programmes during Sir John Barbirolli’s era, not only at Belle Vue and in the Free Trade Hall but in many of the other towns and cities where the orchestra played and particularly, of course, at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. There, especially during the 1960s, it rivalled the Last Night as a relaxed and enjoyable occasion, with JB presiding over the audience’s revels in a benevolently avuncular manner. If they were going to sway to the waltzes, they had to do it in time with the music; and if they were going to stamp their feet during some of the polkas, that too had to be done in tempo and accurately. The performances on this disc eloquently illustrate Barbirolli’s way with the music of the Strausses and others such as Lehár who comprise what we call the Golden Age of Vienna, although not all were Vienna-born but became adopted sons of the city. This English conductor of Italo-French parentage could be almost more Viennese than the Viennese. He had the secret of just how much rubato the waltzes could take without tipping over into sentimentality. He also acknowledges their rhythmic vitality and the brilliance of the scoring, not just for strings but for solo piccolo, oboe and percussion. What made his conducting of these Viennese bon-bons so satisfying was that he recognised that they were not just bon-bons but in several cases masterpieces of their genre.
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