Music by the Strausses Johann I, Johann II, Eduard and Josef, and Joseph Lanner
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 1 January 2004 in the Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
CD No: DG 474 900-2 (2 CDs) Duration: Reviewed: January 2004
New Years Day Concert 2004 VPO/Muti (DG)
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Its strange how the dance music of the Strauss Family and its composer-acolytes is sometimes dismissed by those otherwise into music. These wonderful waltzes and polkas, and other forms, and are wonderfully sophisticated, memorable and consistently inventive. Brahms was an admirer. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern made transcriptions they surely wouldnt have if they didnt think the pieces were worthwhile and conductors such as Karajan and Barbirolli have prepared this repertoire with the same dedication as they would a Beethoven and Mahler symphony.
The Vienna Philharmonics New Years Day concert is usually an enjoyable way to usher in another four seasons. This latest one was especially so. Since Willi Boskovskys monopoly of this prestigious occasion came to an end, a couple of decades ago, a roster of distinguished conductors have been dedicated followers of tradition Abbado, Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Mehta and Maazel have all produced programmes of the utmost celebration for this timeless repertoire, the Vienna Philharmonics innate response a source of constant delight.
Less happy though, with the last two occasions, has been the subsequent rush-release CD issue: Philips managed to lose five items for Ozawas debut (for single-CD purposes), and Harnoncourts entree was rearranged by DG seemingly to equalise the two CDs playing-time. In both cases, the DVDs were the better option.
This time, not only was it a particularly good year, but this CD issue, equally rushed, is beyond reproach the first half is on CD 1, and the second is on the other disc.
Put simply this is a superb concert, beautifully recorded, in which unfamiliar items and some real discoveries Im thinking of Papa Strausss Beliebte Sperl-Polka (with its adorable ditty-like trio) and Joseph Lanners Tarantel-Galop rub shoulders with universally recognised titles that are played as sweetly and naturally as ever, with Muti lavishing his attentions just as surely as he would for any other great repertoire. Without inhibiting the second-nature response of the VPO, Muti leads performances in which Wiener Philharmoniker seems entirely en rapport with the relaxed and caring maestro.
Mutis well-intentioned speech (in English), slightly trimmed I think, is included a sobering world-aware address, which comes, of course, before The Blue Danube waltz. The format may be familiar but it is time-honoured. Muti, for at least the second time as this concerts guest maestro, displays responsibility for and appreciation of this delectable music, making this particular New Year marker both new-minted and life-enhancing.