Saturday, February 19, 2000

Strauss, old Vienna enliven Music Hall

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Pops waltzed into the new millennium Friday night.

        In Pops conductor Erich Kunzel's Viennese program, it was easy to see why the Cincinnati Pops' Straussfest recordings have been top sellers. Mr. Kunzel perfectly captured the character of old Vienna in this program of waltzes and polkas — destined for a Viennafest album.

        Mr. Kunzel revisited some of his favorite Johann Strauss Jr. pieces, and added a few new ones by Viennese contemporaries. The result was a well-balanced evening that unfolded with momentum and warmth.

        The magic of this music was helped along by two pairs of spectacular ballroom dancers and Cincinnati soprano Blythe Walker.

        Ms. Walker, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate who has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, displayed a smiling personality and a flexible coloratura in “The Laughing Song” from Die Fledermaus. She injected a touch of romance in Lehar's “Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss.”

        She returned in the second half for Strauss' “Voices of Spring” waltzes, navigating its vocal acrobatics brilliantly. But those who left before the encores missed the evening's most charming number, when she sang “Wien, Wien, nur du allein,” accompanied by dancers Barbara and Timo thy Haller in a breathtaking, dreamlike waltz with lifts, drops and splits.

        The Hallers, who are championship ballroom dancers from Dayton, were joined by Polish natives Mariusz Kraszewsky and Dominika Halladin (now living in Dayton) in waltzes by Oscar Straus and Josef Lanner. Both couples displayed elegant style and seamless footwork across the front of Music Hall's stage.

        In Lanner's Hofballtanze Waltzes, they painted a picture of elegance and precision. The Hallers impressed with their lifts, creating the effect of gliding effortlessly across the stage but undoubtedly requiring strength and control.

        Mr. Kunzel coaxed the musicians into performances that were fresh and atmospheric, making the most of the contrast between sweet, gentle moments and extroverted ones. Only in one departure from the printed program — Tchaikovsky's Waltz from Eugene Onegin — was the playing less than polished.

        The highlights were the overtures, especially a frothy Overture to Die Fledermaus, which concluded. Mr. Kunzel left the audience of 2,555 clapping with — what else? — the Radetzky March.

        The Pops repeats at 8 p.m. Sunday in Music Hall. Tickets: 381-3300.


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