Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Viennese Classics concert drew together a series of seven works by great composers who made their names, found artistic inspiration, and created enduring works in the Austrian capital city of Vienna.
With a programme including Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler, and Schubert, among others, Viennese Classics was led by two Guys – guest conductor and violinist Guy Braunstein and host Guy Noble – whose ongoing exchange of humourous patter made the concert even more engaging and enjoyable.
Viennese Classics opened with Beethoven’s gentle and serene Romance No.2 in F for Violin and Orchestra, with Guy Braunstein turning from the orchestra to the audience throughout the piece as both conductor and soloist. Braunstein then performed his own arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s Syncopation, and went on to conduct the remainder of the concert with gentle but precise gestures.
The third piece of the concert was Franz von Suppé’s Overture to his operetta Light Cavalry. Distinguishing between an opera and operetta, Guy Noble summarised that “in opera, people die – in an operetta, they don’t”. The overture was speedy and exciting, opening with the call of horns and progressing to bright and dramatic strings, beautifully cohesive overall.
Gustav Mahler’s Blumine from Symphony No.1 was next: delicate, with moments of beautiful quiet and a bright trumpet solo as it gently built and released. The piece was initially composed as part of the symphony that, through revision, would become Mahler’s first symphony, Titan, but Blumine was only rediscovered in the 1960s and the first modern performance was conducted by Benjamin Britten in 1967.
Australian composer Margaret Sutherland also appeared in the programme and Guy Noble spoke about her significant contribution to the Australian arts landscape, in addition to her accomplishments as a composer. The Allegro con brio from Sutherland’s Concerto for Strings particularly showcased the cello in short swoops, with bass undertones.
Next came the richly textured first movement, Allegro moderato, of Franz Schubert’s unfinished Symphony in B minor. Noble spoke about the symphony’s history – Schubert completed the first two movements, a piano version of the third movement, and sketches of the fourth, and it is not known why he never completed the symphony. Telecommunications company Huawei claimed to have finished it in 2019, using artificial intelligence in collaboration with Emmy award-winning composer Lucas Cantor, although Noble was dismissive of the resulting music. The Allegro moderato began low and slow, but quickly became busy, filled with sudden bursts of intensity layered with strings and horns, before returning to the rumble of its beginning.
Johann Strauss Jr’s Emperor Waltzes, initially programmed for performance earlier in the concert, was a smooth and elegant conclusion. First performed in 1889, this piece of music was intended as a toast made by Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, on the occasion of his visit to the German Emperor Wilhelm II: a symbol of friendship between the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. Originally titled Hand in Hand, Strauss’ publisher Fritz Simrock proposed the title Kaiser-Walzer (Emperor Waltz), since this could allude to either of the rulers, and so would satisfy imperial vanity on both sides.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Viennese Classics was an engaging and enjoyable concert that brought together a range of works that were both composed in, and influenced by, some of the great names of Vienna’s musical landscape.
Viennese Classics was performed at the QPAC Concert Hall on 23 October 2022.