We opened the 47th Viennese New Year concert from City of Oxford Orchestra with Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro, not wholly felicitously since this was a rather thumping rendering, the timpani/strings balance slightly askew. When Tom Poster, the Grieg soloist, appeared, he was straight into the Concerto's famous rhetorical flourish, establishing the A minor tonality, then on into a capricious passage perhaps resembling an elves' dance. Tom was very animated on his stool, arching his body this way and that, sometimes leaning expansively back in apparent contemplation of the 32 panels of Robert Streater's Truth Descending upon the Arts and Sciences - surely not a bad medium of enlightenment for a concert pianist! My neighbours Hsiao-Han and Ing-Wen, tourists from Taiwan, were delighted by the visual aspect of Tom's performance as well as by his virtuosity.
For the extended cadenza, musically the finest element of the movement, he let loose a descending cascade of octaves followed by a massive treatment of the same theme, and thunderous rumbles with the left hand. He then produced bell-like accents in the lyrical adagio, and in the finale, the rapid succession of folk dance sections swept past us as soloist and trumpets hammered out the triumphal coda. This was another demonstration of the combination of power and delicacy that's the hallmark of this pianist; one of the two finest to play regularly in Oxford, in my view. The audience rapture was rewarded by the encore of a Nocturne by Clara Schumann – Opus 6, No.2, I think.
Attendance at last year's concert was a trifle on the sparse side, whereas the place on this frosty night was hearteningly full this time – was it the presence of Tom Poster that brought out the crowd? Tom was a pupil at Cherwell School in the nineties and has a long-standing musical connection with the city. Is it fanciful to wonder whether these circumstances may just possibly add a certain je ne sais quoi to his playing in Oxford?
After the interval we got down to the New Year motif. Suppe's rather stirring Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna was adorned by Peter Adams' cello solo, and hereabouts ebullient conductor Stephen Bell began to treat us to little snippets of introductions, acting as pedagogue and cheerleader. The dance pieces began with Lehar's lilting Gold and Silver Waltzes, followed by the choppy rhythms of the Overture to Die Fledermaus. The Feurfest [fireproof] Polka, prosaically a commission to market the production of a fireproof safe for a famous Vienna safe company, so closely resembled the Radetzky March that it was only the presence of an 'anvil', whacked with relish by percussionist Donal O'Neill, that persuaded me otherwise. He and timpanist Donna-Maria Landowski then tucked into the drama of the Thunder and Lightning Polka. We rounded things off with the inevitable pièce de résistance, the Blue Danube, employed among countless applications by Carol Reed in his 1956 circus film Trapeze, with Burt Lancaster curving graceful parabolas above a gasping audience until the fatal plunge.