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Neujahrskonzert (New Year’s Day Concert) 2015
Full listing at end of review
Wiener Philharmoniker/Zubin Mehta
rec. Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, 1 January 2015. DDD
SONY 88875 035492 [51:58 + 53:12]

Zubin Mehta was returning to the podium for this, his fifth New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, having previously conducted in 1990, 1995, 1998 and 2008.  I listened on Radio 3 on the day and later watched the televised recording on BBC4. I knew that I would have to purchase either the CDs or the blu-ray although I already have enough music by the Strauss family and their contemporaries to last a lifetime.

The CDs and download appeared first, just eight days after the concert – we used to have to wait till the following December for the LPs in the days of Willi Boskovsky – but the DVD and blu-ray had not yet appeared when I wrote this review.  It’s nice to see the visual extras once but the CDs will be enough for most.

Three works – marked with an asterisk in the listing at the end of the review – were making their début at a New Year’s Day concert.  Johann Senior’s Freiheitsmarsch (Freedom March) was particularly surprising. I never realised that the arch-conservative who praised General Radetzky’s part in suppressing Italian reunification with the famous March, played as always at the end, had also kept one foot in the liberal camp.

As in recent years, the music of other contemporaries also featured in the programme.  The proceedings opened with Suppé’s Morning, Noon and Night Overture and the ‘Strauss of the North’, Lumbye, featured with his Champagne Galop. Good as the notes, by the first violinist of the VPO, are, they don’t include the information which Petroc Trelawny offered the viewers and listeners, that Lumbye had been waylaid en route to a reception at the British Embassy in Copenhagen and had to make up a story about the champagne which had flowed, a story bolstered by the composition of this piece.  It’s every bit as attractive as the music of the Strauss family.

The 2012 concert featured music by Lumbye, his best-known work the Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop, but the Strauss family were also interested in this new invention which got them to concerts in far-flung places.  The best-known of the dances they wrote with railway themes is Eduard Strauss’s Bahn frei!; the 2015 concert includes a work that I hadn’t encountered before: his fast polka Mit Dampf (by steam), of which there seem to be only two other recordings in the catalogue.

Also in recent years we have had more of the music of Josef Strauss who I’m not alone in believing was the most talented member of the family.  If the two works by him here leave you wishing for more, there’s a Marco Polo series devoted to his music – now download only, but there’s a single-CD distillation from the series which is well worth your while on Naxos 8.556846 – review.

Almost certainly the Vienna Philharmonic could play everything in the New Year’s Day concert without a conductor, but it’s equally true that the rapport between players and conductor is very important and there is clearly such a rapport between the VPO and Zubin Mehta.  This may not be quite as special as the Carlos Kleiber (1989 and 1992) and Herbert von Karajan (1987) occasions and I still turn to them and to Willi Boskosvsky – especially the recordings which he made for Vanguard with his own ensemble – for that little extra, but it’s not far behind.  It’s a shame that Mehta didn’t follow the Boskovsky custom of ending Perpetuum Mobile with his ‘Und so geht es immer weiter’, including that wonderful Viennese ei in weiter.  Mehta’s ‘Etcetera, etcetera’ doesn’t quite do it.

Those Vanguard recordings were made by the kind of small ensemble which would have played the music originally – though the VPO is slimmed down for the occasion, with most players participating every other or every third year, it’s still much larger than the original Strauss orchestra.  The Boskovsky Ensemble also set the music of the Strauss family in the historical context of their predecessors and contemporaries, so their reissue by Alto is most welcome: review and review.

If you listened or watched you will probably need no advice from me to obtain the recording in one form or another.  If you missed it, you should at least sample the concert, perhaps from Qobuz.  That’s also where I obtained the download – at a special price of £7.99 for 16-bit CD-quality and £10.49 for 24-bit.  I listened to the 16-bit and it’s very good, so the CDs should be too.

A couple of small grumbles: I couldn’t easily give you the individual times of the tracks because they are not listed in the booklet – I’d rather have had the information than the lavish pictures of the Goldener Saal.  Nor could I give you individual times for each CD because they are not listed either.  Having downloaded the album from Qobuz in CD-quality 16-bit sound, I didn’t know where CD1 ends and CD2 begins – also not listed in the booklet – and had to work all this out myself.

Brian Wilson

Track-listing

Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895) Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna) Overture [8:35]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) Märchen aus dem Orient, Walzer, Op.444 [7:58]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870) Wiener Leben, Polka française, Op.218* [3:22]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916) Wo man lacht und lebt, Polka schnell, Op.108 [2:14]
Josef STRAUSS Dorfschwalben aus Österreich, Walzer, Op.164 [8:49]
Johann STRAUSS II Vom Donaustrande, Polka schnell, Op.356 [3:03]; Perpetuum mobile, Op.257 [3:08]; Accelerationen, Walzer, Op.234 [9:21]; Elektro-magnetische Polka, Op.110 [3:00]
Eduard STRAUSS Mit Dampf, Polka schnell, Op.70 [2:25]           
Johann STRAUSS II An der Elbe, Walzer, Op.477* [9:35]           
Hans-Christian LUMBYE (1810-1874) Champagner-Galopp [2:23]        
Johann STRAUSS II Studenten-Polka, Op.263* [4:03]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849) Freiheits-Marsch, Op.226* [2:54]         
Johann STRAUSS II Annen-Polka, Op.117 [4:28]; Wein, Weib und Gesang, Walzer, Op.333 [10:05]
Eduard STRAUSS Mit Chic, Polka schnell, Op.221 [2:20]
Johann STRAUSS II Explosionen -Polka, Op.43 [2:19]; Neujahrsgruß (New Year’s Greetings) [0:30]
Johann STRAUSS II An der schönen blauen Donau, Op.314 [10:42]
Johann STRAUSS I Radetzky-Marsch, Op.228 [3:54]

* First performance at a Vienna New Year’s Day Concert