“Ooh aren’t they sweet,” cooed the woman sitting behind me as the sailor-suited boys filed on stage.
Not as many of them as I’d imagined, 25, for this was just one of the four Vienna Boys Choirs which constantly tour the world, as Kerem Sezen – conductor, pianist and master-of-ceremonies – told us. The choir gave us items from their five hundred year performing tradition from the Christe eleison from Gallus’s 16th century mass to works by current Viennese composers.
Their sound differs from that of English boys’ choirs – less pure, occasionally wayward in pitch but more fulsome and expressive. Those qualities were evident particularly in Bruckner’s At Midnight and Fingal’s Song, the last of Brahms’ Four Songs. Their energetic style was most suited to the contemporary works by Eder and Sulzer, the polyphony of the latter’s Laudate Dominum crisply and winningly delivered, was most effective. The traditional Viennese street songs, with the boys dancing and gambolling, were corny but fun as was their vigorous version of Strauss’s Tritsch Tratsch Polka.
The inclusion of three items by Billy Joel was explicable only because the choir next tour America where classical musical is rapidly becoming cross-over – Joel’s This Night has trite lyrics sung to the melody of the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata (honestly). The descent to kitsch was completed by an excruciating encore of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, with one boy crooning into the microphone while another stumbled through an electric guitar solo – like watching a nightmare version of junior X Factor.