Venzago enlivens MusicFest's 'Vienna'


"Oh, give me the free 'n' easy waltz that is Viennesey," goes the Ira Gershwin lyric. "When I want a melody lilting through the house, then I want a melody by Strauss." That, more or less, was the attitude Friday evening as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra continued its Summer MusicFest with "A Night in Old Vienna." Melodies by Strauss - mostly Johann Jr. - lilted through Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, along with a few equally memorable tunes by other composers, not all "Viennesey."

Pulling everything together into one neat, entertaining package was MusicFest conductor Mario Venzago. As his first two concerts made plain, Venzago's a live wire, positively bursting with amiability. He offered witty commentary about the music; danced up a storm on the podium (during Strauss' "Thunder and Lightning" Polka, he didn't just polka, but wildly wielded an umbrella); and had the orchestra playing with genuine Viennese sensibility.

Among the highlights was a warm, rhythmically flexible account of Strauss' "Emperor" Waltz. Mihaly Virizlay's cello solos were a model of elegant phrasing here, as well as in Weber's "Invitation to the Dance," which received another exceptionally detailed and atmospheric interpretation from Venzago. (Too bad the audience rushed the applause, wiping out some of the wistful coda.)

Benjamin Schmid, a young Viennese-born violinist, joined the BSO for five gems by Fritz Kreisler. Schmid's tone was not particularly large or sweet, his technique notparticularly impressive, but he played the ever-endearing pieces with a knowing style.

Venzago also squeezed in the overture to a French operetta, Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," coaxing sweet sounds from the orchestra in the subtler passages and revving up the can-can mightily. Since that overture was not actually written by Offenbach, but by a minor Austrian composer for a Vienna production, it fit right into the concert's theme. As for Ravel's "Bolero," well, the chance to hear, as Venzago put it, a Spanish dance composed by a Frenchman and led by a Swiss conductor on a Viennese program was justification in itself. If the performance had a few bumpy moments, it generated plenty of heat.

With a quick dash back to Vienna for the inevitable encore, the "Radetzky" March by Johann Strauss Sr., the evening ended in appropriately rousing fashion.

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