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Neujahrskonzert: New Year’s Concert 2010
see end of review for track listing
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
rec. Golden Hall, Musikverein, Vienna, 1 January 2010. DTS stereo and 5.1 surround. Region 0. Picture 16:9.
Bonus features: Dance sequences and interval film Inside.
Also available as 2-CD set on 478 2113.
DECCA 0743376 [146:20]

Experience Classicsonline


So successful was octogenarian Georges Prêtre’s first appearance at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic on New Year’s Day, 2008, that he was invited back for this concert. The decision paid dividends; if anything, this year’s version is even better than that of 2008, which remains available on 478 0034 (2 CDs) or 074 3246 (DVD).

As in 2008, too, when he opened with the Napoleon March and included items such as the Orpheus Quadrille, Prêtre brings a French touch to the proceedings, with music by, and based on, Offenbach: two pieces inspired by champagne, a French-style polka and Johann Strauss Senior’s Carnival in Paris.

Much of the music received its first performance on New Year’s Day and very welcome it was. My only regret is that there was room for only one work by that most talented of the Strauss family, Josef. His Frauenherz polka-mazurka, the second item in the programme, will make most listeners wish for more. There used to be a Boskovsky LP devoted entirely to Josef Strauss, now available only as part of a 6-CD (Decca London 455 254 2) or 5-CD set (Decca 478 0223); perhaps Eloquence would like to reissue it on its own. Otherwise most New Year’s Day concerts feature at least one work by Josef and there is also Marco Polo’s multi-volume Josef Strauss edition - not the last word in orchestral playing, but always at least reliable.

Everything here is conducted with great energy and enthusiasm - one huge advantage of the DVD over the CD format is to see Prêtre in action. You would never imagine that he was 85, conducting even the well-worn pieces as if for the first time. There is plenty of familiar music which, as the cliché has it, the Vienna Phil could probably play in their sleep. Yet the best New Year conductors always manage to make even the well-known works sound fresh. Whereas Willi Boskovsky always used to end Perpetuum Mobile with ‘Und so geht es immer weiter’, Prêtre rounds it off with ‘Wunderbar - aber genug!’

Prêtre revels in the fun of the occasion, pretending to walk off in boredom as Perpetuum Mobile nears its end, and cupping his ear for the bird-song and cuckoo sound in Im Krapfenwäldl. He takes the latter a little more slowly than Boskovsky used to, but his version is just as much fun.

You can’t do much to vary the Radetzky March, but the good old Danube comes up fresh. It’s not just the snapshots of the river, from its source at Donaueschingen in Germany, to its Rumanian delta, attractive as they are, that make Prêtre’s Blue Danube refreshingly different. It’s not even the odd significant micro-pause, the rubato here, the diminuendo there - they are just the things that are easy to analyse. He even manages to make the piece sound subtly different from the way it sounded in 2008, taking a few short seconds longer to bring it to perfection. I’m not sure that the classic Karajan performance on his 1987 concert (reissued on DG Grand Prix 477 6339) isn’t a shade too fast and unyeilding by comparison, though I wouldn’t be without a souvenir of that occasion.

The presentation is, so far as I can see, a straight rehash of the broadcast as it was televised on the day - no problem there, since it’s always done so professionally that it doesn’t need to be edited. The picture is clearer, sharper and less prone to shimmer than my hard-drive recording of the broadcast, though that was made at the highest ratio that my Sony recorder permits. The sound, too, is an improvement on what was televised, even when played via the television. Played through my audio system, it sounds at least as good as the FM broadcast on the day. The other advantage is the absence of Brian Kay’s commentary - helpful on the day, but tiresome in repetition.

There is a useful booklet of notes but, unfortunately, no timings for individual tracks or for the DVD overall - I had to obtain the latter piece of information from a semi-legal download site and the former from the CD download on the Amazon website.

If you watched or heard the broadcast on New Year’s Day, you will need no urging from me; you have probably bought the CDs or the DVD already. Otherwise, take my word that you need have no hesitation in purchasing the new recording in some form - and buy the 2008 concert, too, while you’re about it, before it disappears. I recommended the download of that 2008 concert from passionato in my February 2010 Download Roundup - now it seems to be no longer available even online, though I imagine that it may reappear when passionato’s large-scale refurbishment is complete. Even the best of these New Year concerts don’t stay forever in the catalogue: the classic Carlos Kleiber from 1989 is now available only on DVD (073 4014) - perhaps you ought to snap that up, too. Kleiber’s revisit in 1992 now seems to be commemorated only as a download (available from amazon.co.uk); the CD is listed as ‘out of stock’.

By definition, a New Year’s Day concert is an ephemeral affair, but some years stay in the memory: Boskovsky’s final year, coinciding with the advent of digital recording, and those Karajan and Kleiber years to which I have referred. Prêtre in 2008 came close to rivalling those master-performances; in 2010 he has staked his place firmly among them.

Brian Wilson 

Track listing
Part 1:
Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) Die Fledermaus - Overture [9:12]
Josef Strauss (1827-1870) Frauenherz. Polka mazur, op.166 [5:37]
Johann Strauss II Im Krapfenwald’l. Polka française, op.336 [4:31]
Stürmisch in Lieb’ und Tanz. Polka schnell, op.393 [2:33]
Wein, Weib und Gesang. Walzer, op.333 [10:41]
Perpetuum mobile. Musikalischer Scherz, op.257 [3:08]
Part 2:
Otto Nicolai (1810-1849) Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor - Overture [8:41]
Johann Strauss II Wiener Bonbons. Walzer, op.307 [9:50]
Champagner-Polka. Musikalischer Scherz, op.211 (1858) [2:27]
Ein Herz, ein Sinn. Polka mazur, op.323 [4:32]
Johann Strauss I (1804-1849) Der Carneval in Paris. Galopp, op.100 [2:31]
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) Die Rheinnixen - Overture [6:16]
Eduard Strauss (1835-1916) Helenen-Quadrille, op.14 (on themes from the operetta La Belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach) [4:48]
Johann Strauss II Morgenblätter. Walzer, op.279 [11:58]
Hans Christian Lumbye (1810-1847) Champagner-Galopp [2:28]
Johann Strauss II Auf der Jagd. Polka schnell, op.373 [2:27]
New Year’s Address 2010 [0:53]
Johann Strauss II An der schönen blauen Donau. Walzer, op.314 [11:27]
Johann Strauss I Radetzky-Marsch, op.228 [2:36]

 


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