CD No: DG 474 250-2 (2 CDs) Duration: Reviewed: February 2003
New Years Day Concert 2003
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
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 concerts 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 shouldnt be in the equation. Its also a shame that applause intrudes into Webers Invitation to the Dance (in Berliozs 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 IIs Jubilee March and the first waltz heard is his Treasure, with tunes from The Gypsy Baron, given with lilt and affection. This is Nikolaus Harnoncourts 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 Pêle-mêle (Josef) and the exotica of Johann Seniors Chineser Galop (complete with xylophone and a stupendous bass drum close!). Harnoncourts ear for texture is en rapport with Berliozs in his orchestration of Webers piano work and the conductors slightly-under tempo is ideal. Oh, that applause! At least, however, DG has issued the whole concert, unlike Philipss 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Two Brahms Hungarian Dances (numbers 5 & 6) are as orchestrated by Friedrich D. Reichert unpublished and more effective than those usually played (Brahms only scored 1, 3 & 10).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 Harnoncourts 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.