Los Angeles Concert Review: SALUTE TO VIENNA NEW YEAR’S CONCERT (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on January 5, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

VIENNA SAUSAGE

Salute to Vienna is a light-hearted event which reenacts the ridiculously popular New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic (a.k.a. Neujahrskonzert). The inoffensive, fun, and slightly cheesy potpourri includes costumed dancers, opera singers, and an orchestra that plays the waltzes and polkas of Johann Strauss Jr. and his contemporaries. Figures vary, but the annual televised Jan.1 concert from Vienna reaches hundreds of millions across the globe (you more than likely have seen or heard about it on PBS).

Since 1995, a recreated version has played North American concert halls over a 5-day period around the New Year. I caught Sunday’s performance at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, which had a program similar to the fare in other United States cities. The fact that 6 of these 14 concert locales this year are in Florida should tell you something about the intended audience: Retirees who delight in frothy selections that glorify youth, romance and the sentimentalized European tradition of waltzing-as-courting.

Conductor András DeákEvery city has a full orchestra aptly named the Strauss Symphony of America, even though they are each made up of different local musicians. The players here sounded terrific, and together were just as good—if not better—than some of Southern California’s resident orchestras. The jovial and anything-but-somber András Deák offered tongue-in-cheek, thick-accented commentary—which he read from notes—in a deadpan manner á la Victor Borge. The Hungarian conductor even used a bouquet of roses to conduct during an encore number. The crowd loved the percussionist who shot off a gun many times during Johann Strauss II’s Banditen Polka, but I loved the nearby harpist who kept covering her ears and shooing away the smoke.

Tenor Martin PiskorskiThe squeaky clean performers included soprano Alexandra Reinprecht (who changes outfits for each number) and tenor Martin Piskorski (consistently in tuxedo), both from Vienna and both miked, who offered romantic and comical selections from various operettas by Kálmán and Lehár. While there were a few squeaks, the young Piskorski has a deep, sonorous quality which is well on its way to maturing. Reinprecht was a bit shrill on her top notes, and her sound levels were consistently uneven, but she displayed a coquettish strength in voice, exhibiting more passion in one song than many singers deliver in an entire opera.

SALUTE TO VIENNA New Year's Concert Ballroom DancersI have to admire the fact that the six dancers from the Ukrainian company Kiev-Aniko Ballet never crashed into each other, so limited was their space in front of the orchestra. Aniko Rekhviashvil’s choreography is a mash-up of classical, traditional folk and ballroom; the results were hardly exciting. With the exception of a few inventive pas de deux, the movement was repetitive, and the ensemble came off more like peasant dancers than world-class ballet artists. In addition, Rekhviashvil’s costumes—from ill-fitting band uniforms on the very thin men (who barely smiled) to cheesy sparkles or red, pink and blue tulle on the women (one of whom was zaftig)—made them look more like State Fair dance competitors than the best that Vienna has to offer. “International Ballroom Champion Dancers” Yuliya Sakhnevych and Ievgen Tkachenko fared far better under the same choreographer; they were both beautiful (she was positively gorgeous) and obviously had more room to move. Still, the flirty-girl-and-desirous-boy storytelling got old. I guess a fiery narrative doesn’t fit the innocuous nature of the show.

SALUTE TO VIENNA New Year's Concert - POSTER.Yet even an audience who came for Sachertorte and sweet port knows a substantive Wiener Schnitzel and fine champagne when they see it: Hungarian violinist Zoltán Mága made a surprise appearance and played Italian composer Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás, a work based on a traditional Hungarian folk dance. After hearing him master the tricky stopped harmonics with a flair that energized the senses, the packed house went wild, shouting and pleading for more. Then it was back to polite applause for other selections.

Ultimately, the evening was a machine not unlike a grinder which turns a variety of meats into the smoked and canned wieners known as Vienna Sausage: They’re fun to eat and go down easy, but they are for those willing to accept mushy blandness in place of gourmet fare. Even though your mom will find this affair adorable (Ach mein Gott! it’s ALL so adorable), Salute to Vienna would be a much more recommended affair if all of the acts were at Mága’s level of achievement.

photos of previous concerts courtesy of Attila Glatz

Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert
Attila Glatz Concert Productions
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played on January 5, 2014
for more info, visit www.SaluteToVienna.com or www.glatzconcerts.com

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