> New Year Concert 2002 [MB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann STRAUSS II Ouvertüre Die Fledermaus
Johann STRAUSS II Künstlerleben, Walzer op.316
Johann STRAUSS II Zivio! Marsch, op.456
Josef STRAUSS Die Schwätzerin, Polka Mazur, op.144
Josef STRAUSS Vorwärts! Polka schnell, op.127
Josef STRAUSS Aquarellen, Walzer, op.258
Josef STRAUSS Die Libelle, Polka Mazur, op.204
Josef STRAUSS Plappermäulchen! Polka schnell, op.245
Joseph HELLMESBERGER II Danse diabolique
Johann STRAUSS II Elisen-Polka française, op.151
Johann STRAUSS II Wiener Blut, Walzer, op.354
Johann STRAUSS II Tik-Tak, Polka schnell, op.365
Die Nuejahrsansprache
Johann STRAUSS II An der schönen, blauen Donau,Walzer, op. 314
Johann STRAUSS I Radetzky-Marsch, op. 228
Wiener Philharmoniker/Seiji Ozawa
Recorded live at the Musikverein, Wien on 1st January 2002
PHILIPS 468 999-2 [78.43] full price



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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 Ozawa magnetically.

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 entirely wrong.

Marc Bridle

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