Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conductor Benjamin Northey.

Photo: Supplied

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Melbourne Town Hall
May 4

This Vienna is the city of the Strauss family, where waltzes and polkas made for popular entertainment and operetta ruled the stage. For many years, Australia has had a soft spot for such amiable, tragedy-free music and this opening to the MSOs Town Hall series catered to that appetite. Playing to a packed house, Benjamin Northey directed the players through works all-too-familiar to most of us, guest soprano Emma Matthews gracing Friday night with a sparkling version of Strauss IIs Voices of Spring Waltz but rarely catching fire in her three other contributions.

Still, the orchestra also missed out on several opportunities to shine in these pieces that have their moments of technical frisson but are hardly over-demanding. Some of the high-brass work came across as lacking precision and care in phrasing during instrumental segments; the violins sounded dynamically underpowered in grander scores like the Emperor Waltz and Suppes Poet and Peasant Overture; while Northey made occasional use of an elegant Boskovsky hesitation, the general output impressed as more hefty than crisp, even in a crackle-filled delight like the Thunder and Lightning Polka.

The MSO Chorus gave an able if tepid support for Matthews reading of Lehars Vilja , mirrored the soloists languor in the same composers Meine Lippen, sie kussen , then put their energies to more substantial effect in the original version of On the Beautiful Blue Danube. This exercise served to underline that great waltzs superlative chain of melodies: a source of unfailing pleasure on an occasionally lacklustre night.

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