Brahms, Berlioz

Another amateur night in the Musikverein.

The Orchestral Society of the Association of the Friends of Music in Vienna, the Musikverein’s house amateur orchestra with the excessively-long name, performed Brahms’ Symphony #4 under Robert Zelzer for the first half of the program.  The playing was somewhat ragged, but they made it through reasonably well, considering they are not professional musicians.  As usual, Brahms wrote pleasant-sounding music but had nothing to say.  Occasionally an orchestra partly makes up for this by itself having something to say when playing Brahms, but not this orchestra and not tonight.

After the intermission, the Academic Wind Instrument Philharmonic – a student orchestra which grew out of the Vienna Technical University – got to do the original version of the rarely-heard Grand Funereal and Triumphal Symphony of Berlioz under the Danish conductor David Hojer.  The first movement – funeral music – emerged quite strikingly.  Perhaps I have spent too much time in Russia recently, but I almost heard antecedents of Schostakowitsch in some of Berlioz’ harmonies and rhythms.  A Russian orchestra, with its glaring winds, might take to this work.  The second and third movements settled in less convincingly as the orchestra tired and began to drag.  Berlioz himself later re-scored this piece to strengthen those two movements with a chorus, and perhaps this performance of the original version provided some indication of why he believed he needed to do that.  Indeed, when it looked like the orchestra was preparing to perform an encore, Hojer consulted with several of the musicians and then announced from the stage that they were too tired to play an encore.


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