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Summer Night Concert 2017
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Carnival, concert overture, op. 92 [9:54]
Za Štílhou Gazelou from Armida [5:08]
Mésíčku na nebi hlubokém from Rusalka [7:07]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
from The Sleeping Beauty suite, op. 66a –
Adagio [6:43]
Valse [5:23]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Sumerki, op.21/3 (orch. Mnatsakanov) [2:32]
Ne poy, krasavitsa, prim ne! op.4/4 (orch. Leonardi ) [5:37]
Vessenniye Vody op.14/11 (orch Mnatsakanov) [2:29]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel – Prelude [8:50]
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Hedwig’s Theme from ‘Harry Potter’ soundtrack [5:24]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird Suite: Danse infernale [4:47], Berceuse [3:32], Finale [3:46]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride [4:22]
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ChristophEschenbach
rec. live, May 2017, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
SONY 88985425932 [75:44]

This is a highly entertaining recording of the 2017 version of the now famous Vienna Summer Night Concerts in the splendour of Schönbrunn Palace’s grounds. As you might expect, most of the items are fairly ‘middle-of-the-road, for what is very much a family occasion. But it’s still worth hearing, to relish the glorious playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. The conductor is Christoph Eschenbach, and the programme starts with a bright, energetic performance of Dvořák’s overture Carnival. The ending is a bit of a disappointment, however, with the trombones not coming through as thrillingly as they should.

That’s followed by two Dvořák arias, the first (translated as ‘As I merrily pursued a gazelle’) from Armida, the composer’s final opera, and indeed his very final work, for he died a matter of days after its premiere in Prague. It is a beautiful and haunting aria; unfortunately, the soloist Renée Fleming seems uncomfortable in both this and the succeeding aria, the famous Song to the Moon from Rusalka. She and Eschenbach can’t seem to agree on a tempo; rubato is one thing, incoherence is another! Perhaps lack of rehearsal time was the problem, because she is back to her magnificent best in the three Rachmaninov songs; the second one (translated title ‘Never sing to me again’) is a melancholy masterpiece, and she captures perfectly the tearful mood. These songs appear to have been specially orchestrated for the concert, though you do have to look extremely hard to find the arrangers credited in tiny letters at the bottom of the first page of the booklet. Oddly, the last (and most famous) of these songs, ‘Spring Waters’ is scored almost entirely for just strings and piano – one could almost think the arranger had run out of time and didn’t get the wind parts finished! But these are genuinely fine, deeply felt performances.

Before the Rachmaninoff, we get two numbers from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty suite. Fascinating how in the second of these, even though this is a Russian waltz, the Viennese players still instinctively give their ‘um-cha-chas’ that slightly syncopated lift. Bred into them!
The theme of this concert was ‘Fairytales and Myths’ so appropriately we now get the great Prelude to Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, followed by ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from John Williams’s brilliant Harry Potter music. I’d never expected to hear this music played by the denizens of the VPO! But of course they bring it off with stunning panache, and in the process the music acquires an almost symphonic splendour.

Three movements from Stravinsky’s Firebird music follow, the bassoon solo in the ‘Berceuse’ especially beautifully played, and this enjoyable disc is rounded off by the ‘encore’, Smetana’s irresistible ‘Dance of the Comedians’ from The Bartered Bride, the Vienna strings buzzing like a swarm of angry but very musical bees.

This is the sort of compilation that might be a bit of a ‘dog’s dinner’; but in the hands of artists of this calibre, it’s something of a feast instead – and not for dogs, either!

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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