This is Philips’ first New Year’s day concert since
1993 when Riccardo Muti was at the helm of the great Wiener Philharmoniker.
By all accounts it seems that they have a winner on their hands – no
matter what I, or any other critic will dare to say about this disc.
Early reports suggest that since the CD has been on sale in Austria
(since 7th January) it has established a record selling 40,000
copies, topping all the charts. Given that Harnoncourt’s disc of last
year’s concert sold 90,000 throughout the year it is certain to set
a record. Austria, and Vienna, it seems have taken the diminutive Ozawa
to their hearts. When the disc appears in Japan expect the sales figures
to reach mountainous levels.
When asked for an opinion, some days after the broadcast,
I was less than enthusiastic about Ozawa’s handling of this concert.
Hearing the disc I am not now so sure. It does not equal the famous
concerts of recent years by either Karajan or Carlos Kleiber – those
really are very special – but nor is it as depressing an experience
as one used to encounter under Maazel or Muti. The very opening track,
the Overture from Die Fledermaus, sets the tone: bold, dramatic
colours, and a swift tempo that is little short of dynamic. If Aquarellen
(a personal favourite of Ozawa’s) shows the Wiener Philharmoniker dripping
with colour like a rainbow, it is also a beautifully shaped performance,
with fragile phrasing and silken textures. It shows the magician in
My view of An der schönen, blauen Donau
remains unchanged – this performance is too heavily reliant on an alien,
non-Viennese rubato which impedes the work’s development – undoubtedly
beautiful on the surface, but lacking in charm. The really stunning
piece is one new to discs of these broadcasts – Hellmesberger’s Danse
Diabolique. This gem of a piece spirals wonderfully, like a spinning
top, and brings refined and dramatic playing from the orchestra. Like
the Plappermäulchen which precedes it, it shows that these
small works are nothing if not difficult to play. The virtuosity is,
of course, effortless, but which other orchestra makes it appear so?
The Radetsky-Marsch shows that the Viennese
are possibly becoming a bit like Prom audiences (albeit with a more
middle class kind of lack of control), but Ozawa lacks the steeliness
of a Karajan to bring them to hand. Still, the cheers are manifestly
real and one senses that their enjoyment of this concert was also real.
Philips have produced splendid sound, and the booklet
is lavishly illustrated. One suspects that 40,000 Austrians can’t be