A small, landlocked country ensconced in central Europe certainly played a major role in the cultural life of Annapolis last weekend.
But, then again, Austria -- the country of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert and the adopted home of Beethoven and Brahms -- has been cutting a monumental swath through the musical landscape for centuries. Why should Annapolis be left out?
The first wave of the Austrian invasion came Friday evening at the Great Hall at St. John's College in a concert by the Viennese Vocal Ensemble, a 31-member choir directed by Dr. Manfred Linsbauer. The program ranged from the religious music of Arcadelt and Mozart to the "Volkslieder" of Brahms and the rustic folk songs of Austria and Hungary.
Though an amateur chorus, save for a few paid (and accomplished) soloists, the ensemble sings with admirable precision and polish. The sound it created in the Arcadelt "Ave Maria" was beautiful and remained so in a cool, straight interpretation of Mozart's "Ave Verum" and in a Brahms part-song that was satisfying despite some prosaic phrasing that sounded surprisingly un-Viennese.
But the greatest fun of the concert came during the wonderful folk melodies that were sung with a proprietary fervor and charm that communicated readily to a large, enthusiastic audience. The polka was deliciously spirited, and in one folk song that perched
a lyrical soprano melody atop a chorus of Alpine bells, one felt transported to the middle of "The Sound of Music".
Speaking of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, the Viennese singers concluded with the lovely "Edelweiss," a song Austrian in inspiration, American in origin and universal in its warm, melodic appeal.
Sunday evening, St. Mary's Church played host to a talente community orchestra from Scheibbs, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Austrian Alps.
The Scheibbs Chamber Orchestra also presented an enjoyable concert, featuring selections by Bach, Mozart and Grieg.
I especially enjoyed Sunday's performance of Mozart's rollicking concerto for bassoon. While the orchestral accompaniment was more than a tad straight-laced, the bassoonist was of high quality and handled nearly all of the music's considerable demands with assured good humor.
Also impressive was a top-notch concertmistress wh overshadowed her collaborating soloist in the Bach Concerto for Oboe and Violin and continued to sparkle in the concluding "Riaudon" from the Holberg Suite of Edvard Grieg.
A most welcome encore was the delightful Pizzicato Polka of -- who else? -- Johann Strauss. As with the chorus, the orchestra's "down home" moments were the most memorable.