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
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2004
CD No: DG 474 900-2 (2 CDs)
It’s 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 wouldn’t have if they didn’t 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 Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert is usually an enjoyable way to usher in another four seasons. This latest one was especially so. Since Willi Boskovsky’s 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 Philharmonic’s 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 Ozawa’s debut (for single-CD purposes), and Harnoncourt’s 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 – I’m thinking of Papa Strauss’s Beliebte Sperl-Polka (with its adorable ditty-like trio) and Joseph Lanner’s 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.
Muti’s 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 concert’s guest maestro, displays responsibility for and appreciation of this delectable music, making this particular New Year marker both new-minted and life-enhancing.