Music by the Strauss Family, Brahms and Weber
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Nikolaus Harnoncourt


1 January 2003, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
CD No: DG 474 250-2 (2 CDs)
Duration:
Reviewed: February 2003
Traditional Strauss Family fare was supplemented by Brahms and Weber this year. A pity that the two CDs could not have been laid out to reflect the concert’s two halves, easily done with playing times of 33 and 73 minutes respectively – or do companies still think there are people out there who worry about a short-playing CD? There probably is but they shouldn’t be in the equation. It’s also a shame that applause intrudes into Weber’s Invitation to the Dance (in Berlioz’s orchestration) before the inviting cello solo returns. Could or should this blot have been edited out?
The concert includes a lively opener in the form of Johann II’s Jubilee March and the first waltz heard is his Treasure, with tunes from The Gypsy Baron, given with lilt and affection. This is Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s second New Year concert (the first is on Teldec). Expect something out of the ordinary from him, which perhaps this time is relaxed and genial conducting that is integral to the music without eschewing his characteristic reading of scores afresh: their markings, scoring and detail. Great waltzes include the Emperor (Johann II) and Delirien (Josef), both gloriously eloquent, the latter dramatically expectant. Rarities encompass the scurrying Niko-Polka (Johann II), the exuberant PĂȘle-mĂȘle (Josef) and the exotica of Johann Senior’s Chineser Galop (complete with xylophone and a stupendous bass drum close!). Harnoncourt’s ear for texture is en rapport with Berlioz’s in his orchestration of Weber’s piano work – and the conductor’s slightly-under tempo is ideal. Oh, that applause! At least, however, DG has issued the whole concert, unlike Philips’s sad effort for 2002 (Ozawa) where five items were dropped for single-CD presentation.
Two Brahms Hungarian Dances (numbers 5 & 6) are as orchestrated by Friedrich D. Reichert – unpublished and more effective than those usually played (Brahms only scored 1, 3 & 10). Whether in familiar or lesser-known pieces, the silky sounds and perfect rhythms of the VPO are, as always, ideal, and wonderfully responsive to Harnoncourt’s probing, which just proves what rich repertoire this is. And what a rich concert 2003 proved to be.
The sound is warm and detailed, the treble sparkles and the bass has weight and clarity. The VPO is given a close balance; the option for either tangibility or distance and reverberation – the former is chosen, which is heartily approved of by this listener. Everything sounds right – perspective, tones and dynamic contrasts.

 

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