Music by the Strauss Family & Joseph Hellmesberger Jr.
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 1 January 2007 in the Grosser Saal, Musikverien, Vienna
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: DG 477 6225 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 39 minutes
Not only a marker of another New Year beginning but also an unchanging tradition that finds the best of Viennese dance music played with complete identity by the Vienna Philharmonic under the Vienna-trained Zubin Mehta. This was his fourth appearance at these concerts, which has seen numerous guest conductors as master of ceremony since Willi Boskovsky’s monopoly was broken 20-and-more years ago.
Mehta has obvious sympathy for this delectable repertoire, and while the lead is his, the orchestra’s innate response is allowed to flourish on its own terms. Every year brings something unfamiliar and agreeable – Josef Strauss’s Flattergeister Walzer (Restless Spirits) is one such (his Delirien Walzer included here is a masterpiece) and the enchantingly fleeting Elfenreigen (Dance of the Elves) by Joseph Hellmesberger is another, the lovely waltz section in the middle a voluptuous surprise. Einzugs-Galopp (Entry Galop) by the literal daddy of them all, of the Strausses anyway, Johann I, is delightfully skittish.
Time-honoured gems are also included, of course, and when played like this seem rejuvenated, Mehta lavishing much attention on the music – its subtleties, scoring and joie de vivre; more than that there is a civility that perfectly chimes with Imperial Vienna and a relish of these scores that is entirely on their own terms – the opening of Johann Strauss II’s waltz Wo di Zitronen blüh’n (Where the Lemon-trees Blossom) is, here, wonderfully fragrant.
Whether a waltz, polka or galop – or the ambitious overture Waldmeister – the sheer variety and engagement of this music is really quite beguiling; the more so when delivered with the ‘special relationship’ that exists between it and the orchestra and the musicians with a conductor at once fastidious and trusting. Josef’s Sailors Polka is another rare gem and his Dynamiden (Geheime Anziehungskräfte) Walzer, which translates here as Dynamids (Secret Powers of Attraction) and begins with a truly potent introduction. Josef was a master of his craft and, surely, the unrelated Richard knew this work when he came to compose “Der Rosenkavalier”.
Captured in excellent sound, avoiding the bright and obscured sonorities sometimes heard on previous issues of this annual event, this release is a real tonic – charming, effervescent, beautiful … transparent, indeed; and, after Mehta’s short multi-lingual welcome to Bulgaria and Romania on entering Europe, and an even shorter ‘Happy New Year’ greeting, comes the always-present The Blue Danube and Radetzky March.
Next year’s choice of conductor is intriguing, the Frenchman Georges Prêtre, who will be 83 come New Year’s Day 2008. That really is a mouth-watering prospect.