Theatre review: Johann Strauss Gala

Johann Strauss Gala
Johann Strauss Gala

Are orchestral concerts long-winded or boring?

While some music-lovers would cling to the point that they are not, a recent show brought to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate seemed to be built on the premis that they could be.

The Johann Strauss Gala swept into town on Sunday, led by irrepressible conductor/stand-up comedian Rainer Hersch, with an afternoon of Viennese party music played by the Johann Strauss Orchestra and accompanied by the Johann Strauss Dancers.

And the selling point pushed by Rainer seemed to be that music by Strauss is short and not boring and that these kinds of concerts should not be boring.

He backed this up by leading a jovial schedule of entertainment, full of jolly waltzes and polkas and peppered with his own mini stand-up routines.

I don’t think I would completely agree that classical concerts are too long and tedious. There is something lovely about the luxury of listening to a piece of 15 or 20 minutes long in a world full of so many bite-sized entertainment chunks on TV and radio.

But I do understand that the whole idea as pitched by Rainer was a bit of a joke and I enjoyed the orchestra’s delivery of radically abbreviated versions of pieces such as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

The concert didn’t allow any chance for the audience to get bored as beautiful renditions of classic Strauss pieces such as the Blue Danube Waltz and Lucifer Polka, as well as Lehar’s Vilja from The Merry Widow, were accompanied by often funny, balletic sequences performed by the costumed Johann Strauss Dancers.

Joanna Foote, bedecked in a beautiful 19th century style ballgown, also gave some wonderful vocal performances of songs such as Arditi’s The Kiss.

The second part of the concert gave an opportunity for various members of the orchestra (and audience) to perform ‘party pieces’, which I felt was a little more than was needed in a concert as packed with entertainment as this one.

My favourite parts of the concert involved appearances by percussionist John Melbourne, who gave some wonderfully funny performances on a gong and cuckoo whistle, before truly showing off his skills with a breath-takingly fast piece on the xylophone.

For young or old, there is plenty to entertain in the Johann Strauss Gala tour. It’s definitely not boring.