New Year’s Day Concert 2015
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
rec. 1 January 2015, Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, Vienna, Austria
SONY 88875 035492 [51:58 + 53:12]
Watching or listening to a recording of the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, a selection of waltzes and polkas mainly from the Strauss dynasty, has been a long tradition in my household. This, the most widely broadcast classical concert in the world, is relayed across five continents - approaching one hundred countries. The television broadcast often focuses on the sumptuous interior of the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, as usual copiously garlanded with sprays of beautiful flowers, which looked especially striking this year. According to the broadcast commentary a fresh dusting of snow had fallen early that morning adding I should think to the chocolate box ambience of the Viennese event. With regard to production idiosyncrasies this year the camera tended to avoid looking for celebrities in the audience and seemed intent on focusing on the woman piccolo player.
Undoubtedly the success of the New Year’s Day Concert can very much depend on the disposition of the conductor. I admit to especially enjoying the concerts by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons and Daniel Barenboim whose conducting seems to create a special frisson. Vienna is clearly a special place for Zubin Mehta who left his Bombay home to study at the Vienna Conservatoire as an eighteen year old. Mehta has racked up five New Year’s Day Concerts and is clearly popular in Vienna having conducted the orchestra every year since 1961. Only three maestros have directed the New Year’s Day concert more than Mehta namely Boskovsky, Krauss and Maazel. Curiously this year Mehta gave the impression that he would rather have been elsewhere.
Concentrating on the CD of the live concert that was rushed out by Sony in a matter of weeks the programme contains twenty works including five first concert performances at a New Year’s Day Concert compared to nine first performances in 2014. Non members of the Strauss family also represented are Franz von Suppé the Austrian composer famous for his light operas with his overture Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien and celebrated Danish dance composer Hans Christian Lumbye with his Champagner-Galopp; both attractive works that have been programmed at these concerts before. I’m not sure if this is a record but eleven works by Johann Strauss II found their way onto the programme. A newcomer to these concerts is his exquisite waltz An der Elbe with its comforting, dreamy quality. My highlights are both from the pen of Johann Strauss II his wistful waltz Wein, Weib und Gesang and the enchanting Annen-Polka. The low point was undoubtedly Maestro Mehta’s ending to Perpetuum Mobile saying “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera” an indolent attempt at humour that fell flat. From the encore section I noticed the third most frequently played piece at the New Year’s Concerts, the Pizzicato Polka by Johann Strauss II/Josef Strauss was absent for a third year. The two most performed encore works An der schönen blauen Donau an enchanting musical postcard of Vienna was given a splendid Viennese lilt. The ever-stirring Radetzky-Marsch complete with audience participation delivered its usual degree of excitement.
Authoritative as usual is the essay in the CD booklet written by Prof. Dr. Clemens Hellsberg the first violin of the Vienna Philharmonic. Once again the track timings are annoyingly absent from the release. Congratulations are in order to the engineers for Sony who have provided clear and well balanced sound. For my money maestro Mehta showed a curious lack of involvement. He failed to create that near-fantasy world of old Vienna. Where on this occasion was the unbridled joy and enchantment that the finest conductors such as Harnoncourt, Jansons and Barenboim achieve? Nevertheless the care and attention the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra lavished on these works is remarkable and testimony to its innate professionalism.
Previous review: Brian Wilson
Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895) Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna) Overture [8:35]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) Märchen aus dem Orient, Walzer, Op.444 [7:58]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870) Wiener Leben, Polka française, Op.218* [3:22]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916) Wo man lacht und lebt, Polka schnell, Op.108 [2:14]
Josef STRAUSS Dorfschwalben aus Österreich, Walzer, Op.164 [8:49]
Johann STRAUSS II Vom Donaustrande, Polka schnell, Op.356 [3:03]; Perpetuum mobile, Op.257 [3:08]; Accelerationen, Walzer, Op.234 [9:21]; Elektro-magnetische Polka, Op.110 [3:00]
Eduard STRAUSS Mit Dampf, Polka schnell, Op.70 [2:25]
Johann STRAUSS II An der Elbe, Walzer, Op.477* [9:35]
Hans-Christian LUMBYE (1810-1874) Champagner-Galopp [2:23]
Johann STRAUSS II Studenten-Polka, Op.263* [4:03]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849) Freiheits-Marsch, Op.226* [2:54]
Johann STRAUSS II Annen-Polka, Op.117 [4:28]; Wein, Weib und Gesang, Walzer, Op.333 [10:05]
Eduard STRAUSS Mit Chic, Polka schnell, Op.221 [2:20]
Johann STRAUSS II Explosionen - Polka, Op.43 [2:19];
Neujahrsgruß (New Year’s Greetings) [0:30]
Johann STRAUSS II An der schönen blauen Donau, Op.314 [10:42]
Johann STRAUSS I Radetzky-Marsch, Op.228 [3:54]
* First performance at a Vienna New Year’s Day Concert
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