Review: The Hallé, Viennese New Year Concert, Bradford St George’s Hall, Sunday 5th January 2020

THE return of the Hallé’s traditional New Year Concert to the resplendent St George’s Hall is in itself a reason to rejoice. This year’s hugely enjoyable programme cleverly juxtaposed waltzes and polkas of the younger Johann Strauss with the Hungarian Dances and Rhapsodies of Brahms and Liszt. Rising young maestro Gergely Madaras studied composition in Budapest and conducting in Vienna. So who better as conductor and informative guide for this musical tour of both capital cities. Madaras and the Hallé began in mid-19th century Vienna with an effervescent performance of the Overture to Die Fledermaus. Madaras’s idiomatic sense of tempo and his shaping of the yearning passages for solo flute and clarinet coloured in the bittersweet undertones of the piece. Lehar’s sparkling Gold and Silver Waltz, composed for the 1902 Vienna Carnival, continued the party mood. Then we were off to Pest (as Budapest was then known) to explore Brahms’s fascination with Gypsy and Hungarian folk music: three of his twenty one Hungarian Dances arranged for orchestra with passages for unaccompanied solo ‘gypsy’ violin and cimbalon played by Jeno Lisztes and Lajos Sarkozi Jr respectively. This wonderful duo played the Dances as Brahms himself would have heard them played and as they can still be experienced in the bars and cafes of old Budapest.

The infectious sounds of a gypsy band provided the inspiration for Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 1 which follows the form of a traditional Czardas. The Hallé with Messrs Lisztes and Sarkozi Jr gave this, and the famous Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 a beguiling melding of luxuriant orchestral textures with the evocative tones of cimbalom and gypsy violin.

The orchestra’s musical tour ended in Vienna with more Strauss: Pizzicato Polka, Unter Donner und Blitz and Blue Danube Waltz. In the Radetzky March of Johann Strauss senior, Madaras controlled the volume of rhythmic hand clapping from a whisper to a roar.

Geoffrey Mogridge