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New Year’s Concert 2019
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 1 January 2019, Goldener Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
SONY CLASSICAL 19075902822 [56.00 + 54.08]

Watching the Vienna New Year’s Concert performed by the Vienna Philharmonic is an enduring tradition for many. This selection of waltzes, marches and polkas mainly from the Strauss dynasty, the most widely broadcast classical concert in the world, is relayed across ninety countries to 40 million television viewers. The television broadcast often focuses on the sumptuous interior of the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, copiously garlanded with sprays of beautiful flowers, which always look striking. The concert is an event I always look forward to watching and with regard to recordings, my collection goes back as far as Clemens Krauss conducting in 1954.

The character and expertise of the conductor are undoubtedly key factors in the success of the New Year’s Concert and in recent years I acknowledge especially enjoying the concerts by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Daniel Barenboim whose conducting seemed to create a distinct frisson. Vienna is clearly special in the heart of Christian Thielemann who first conducted the orchestra in 2000 so I’m surprised that this is his first New Year’s Concert. A conductor of international renown Thielemann is the principal conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle and music director of the Bayreuth Festival.

Concentrating on this CD of the concert which has been rushed out as usual by Sony the programme contains twenty works including three encores. I notice there are six works having New Year’s Concert premières compared to nine first performances in 2014 and seven last year under Riccardo Muti. The ‘Waltz King’ Johann Strauss II takes the lion’s share of the programme with eleven works; I’m not sure if this is a record. His brother Josef is represented by three works and Eduard has a pair of works. Known as the ‘Father of the Viennese Waltz’, Strauss Sr. has a single work, the final one of the concert, the famous and ubiquitous Radetzky March complete with the usual audience participation.

This concert has Karl Michael Ziehrer and Josef Hellmesberger II as the only two non-Strauss dynasty members having works performed. It’s Ziehrer, a Vienna born composer who was put forward as a challenger to the Strauss brothers Johann and Josef, who gets the concert off to an extremely buoyant start with his haughty Schönfeld March. Hellmesberger, who was from a family of musicians that held significant musical positions in Vienna, provides a pair of works Elfenreigen (Dance of the Elves) a charakterstück with suggestions of the Mendelssohnian ‘elfin’ sound and the Entr'acte Valse, gentle ballet music written as an additional piece for a work at the Court Opera in Vienna. My concert highlight is another encore piece Johann Jr.’s An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube) an enchanting musical postcard of Vienna. For my money the finest of the new works is the brief but uplifting Express Polka-schnell, another Johann Jr. score.

The Viennese waltz, polka and marches are treasured staples of the Vienna Philharmonic and although its playing feels effortless with the waltzes containing a comforting, dreamy quality I never forget the innate professionalism and hard work needed from the players to achieve this elevated level of performance. Thielemann knows this orchestra well but this won’t have prevented him from working on specific details with the players. Nevertheless, this results in a performance that feels spontaneous with such judicious and subtle use of colour and nuance. Tellingly Thielemann ensures a clear swinging Viennese lilt that creates for me a rarely achieved fantasy world of unbridled joy and enchantment of old Vienna. On balance this is one of the most enjoyable New Year’s Concerts I have had the pleasure of hearing. The recording has satisfying sound and congratulations are in order to the sound engineers at the Goldener Saal, Musikverein. In the CD booklet the essay is extremely helpful and has been written by Silvia Kargl and Friedemann Prestel. Once again, the track timings are annoyingly absent from the release.

The conductor chosen for the New Year's Concert in 2020 has been announced as Andris Nelsons who will be making his debut at the event, although he has been musically associated with the Vienna Philharmonic since 2010.
Michael Cookson

CD 1
Carl Michael ZIEHRER (1843-1922)
1. Schönfeld March, op. 422* [3.09]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
2. Transactionen (Transactions). Walzer, op. 184 [10.25]
Joseph HELLMESBERGER II (1855-1907)
3. Elfenreigen (Dance of the Elves), op. 311 [3.54]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
4. Express. Polka schnell, op. 311* [2.40]
5. Nordseebilder (North Sea Pictures). Walzer, op. 390 [8.52]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916)
6. Mit Extrapost (Special Delivery). Polka schnell, op. 259 [2.18]
7. Ouvertüre zur Operette Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron overture) [8.02]
8. Die Tänzerin (The Dancer/Ballerina). Polka française, op. 227* [4.14]
9. Künstlerleben (An Artist’s Life). Walzer, op. 316 [9.45]
10. Die Bajadere (The Bayadère). Polka schnell, op. 351 [2.33]
CD 2
1. Opern-Soiree (Opera Soirée) Polka française, op. 162* [4.55]
Ritter Pásmán (Knight Pazman), three-act opera
2. Eva-Walzer (Eva Waltz)* [5.10]
3. Csárdás [4.38]
4. Egyptischer Marsch (Egyptian March), op. 335 [4.37]
5. Entr'acte Valse* [3.02]
6. Lob der Frauen (In praise of women). Polka mazur, op. 315 [4.30]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
7. Sphärenklänge (Music of the spheres). Walzer, op. 235 [9.35]
8. Im Sturmschritt, Polka schnell, op. 348 [2.24]
9. Neujahrsgrüß (New Year’s Greeting) [0.27]
10. An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube). Walzer, op. 314 [10.38]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
11. Radetzky March, op. 228 [4.04]

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



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