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Neujahrskonzert – New Year’s Day Concert 2020
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
rec. Goldener Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, 1 January 2020
SONY 19439702362 [62:34 + 45:40]

I mentioned this recording in my Winter 2019-20 #2 Roundup, on the basis of seeing and hearing the broadcast on New Year’s Day. I now have the commercial recording, on two CDs which sell effectively for the price of one, with a 3-LP set available shortly. The LPs will cost almost three times as much as the CDs, and even the lossless download costs more than the discs, with 24-bit sound around half as much again as the CDs. Those who prefer better-than-CD sound would be better served by the blu-ray, costing less than the 16- or 24-bit download and only a little more than the DVD.

Choice of the blu-ray or DVD offers the sight of Andris Nelsons’ special get-up in dark blue velvet, contrasting with the traditionally-garbed Vienna Philharmonic. Just to make sure that the break with tradition was not too extreme, there seemed to be even slightly fewer female players this year. (Reports say that there were 15, but I didn’t see that many.) The DVD and blu-ray presumably also include the dancers in some of the numbers and the shots of some of the elegant parts of Old Vienna.

These New Year’s concert recordings tend not to remain available for very long unless they are exceptional as, for example, was Herbert von Karajan’s in 2007, still available at mid-price (DG Grand Prix 4776336) and also on the two twofers entitled Best of New Year’s Concert (E4748302 and 4775115, the latter download only). The 2020 concert was good – well worth obtaining in one form or another – but not, I think, up to the standard of the Karajan or the two which Carlos Kleiber conducted (1989 and 1992).

The 1992 Kleiber is preserved on COLSK48376, mid-price CD, and there are items from both years on two Sony downloads, each almost four hours long (Legendary Moments from the New Year’s Concerts Volume I G010002713845B, Volume II G0100031506923). Mariss Jansons (2016) has already disappeared on CD, though remaining available as a download and on blu-ray.

As usual, several of the items were receiving their first outing at the New Year’s concerts. Ziehrer’s Overture Die Landstreicher, one such, made a rousing opening, followed by the first of five items from Josef Strauß, two of them receiving their first appearance at these concerts: Liebesgrüße and, later, Cupido. Even the three other items from Josef, the Liechtenstein March, Dynamiden, and the first of the encores, Im Fluge, are not often performed. A great fan of Josef’s music, I’m not alone in thinking him the most talented member of the family and I’ve been pleased to hear more of his music in recent years. This year there was more than usual to mark the 150th anniversary of his death.

Dynamiden may not receive too many outings, but you might well think from the affection with which it was played that the VPO had it regularly in their repertoire – with just the right hint of Schmaltz that all the music received, not least the ever-so-slight pause in the right place.

If you like these four pieces by Josef, you should try to hear some of the recordings on the Marco Polo multi-volume series of his music, some of which remain available on CD with many more download-only. There’s a very useful sampler on a single Naxos CD (8.556846 – review). There’s also the oddly-named Josef Strauss meets Offenbach (8.578288 – review). The download-only Naxos Strauss Family – 50 of the Best offers almost five hours of the music of Josef and others from the various Marco Polo series of the music of the members of the family for as little as £5.42 in lossless sound from Presto.

Cupido is not a work that I know and this is the only recording of it apart from that very serviceable Marco Polo Josef Strauss Edition; it's on Volume 20, which also includes the Liechtenstein March featured in the 2020 concert (8.223622 – review, download only).

Eduard, the baby of the family, also featured among the premieres with the lively polka Knall und Fall and the polka-mazurka Eisblume.

These concerts have of late included a good deal of music from the family’s contemporaries and rivals. No surprise, then, to hear, in addition to the Ziehrer, music by Suppé, Helmesberger and Lumbye. Suppé’s Light Cavalry receives a lively performance; though a tad slower than Neeme Järvi’s recording with the RSNO (Chandos CHSA5110), it hits the spot rather better than the Chandos, about which John Sheppard – review – had more than a few reservations, as did Dan Morgan and myself – DL News 2013/2. (Rob Barnett liked it – review.)

As well as being the 150th anniversary of the death of Josef Strauß and of the founding of the Musikverein, the VPO, who have been star turns in Salzburg since 1922, sent greetings to the Festival, celebrating its centenary this year. It can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that this is Beethoven 250 year. Six of his twelve Contredanses, WoO14, Beethoven in unfamiliar mode, received their first outing at the New Year’s Concert. They are short enough for me to wish that all of them had been included, but the selection included one of the many appearances of the theme which we associate with the finale of the Eroica symphony, a theme almost as prevalent in Beethoven’s music as that of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden was in Bach’s. It also appears in the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus and the Eroica piano variations.

Of the various recordings, old and new, of Prometheus, I’ve been enjoying hearing the recent Naxos from the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and Leif Segerstam – not a source which I usually associate with Beethoven, but a real bargain. Robert Cummings thought it ‘may be the one to get’ (8.573853 – review). Only the outright period instrument fans will need to look elsewhere – in their case to Armonia Atenea and George Petrou (Decca 4786755) or the Orchestra of the 18th Century with Frans Brüggen (Decca 4787436, with symphonies and violin concerto, 7 CDs, target price £21).

Naxos also offer a very worthwhile CD of the complete contredanses, with other Beethoven dance music (8.550433 Capella Istropolitana). Andrew Manze included the dances, along with the Prometheus finale, on his rather understated Helsingborg SO recording of the Eroica symphony (Harmonia Mundi HMU807470).

The contredanses were preceded at the New Year by Lumbye’s Postillon Galop, another lively performance which could well tempt you to indulge in the composer’s other music, not least his evocation of a journey on what was then a short stretch of Denmark’s first railway, Københavns Jernbanedamp Galop, the Copenhagen Steam Pleasure Railway Galop, complete with whistles and puffing engine. One of the reasons for his nickname ‘Strauss of the North’ is his sharing with them an interest in trains; not that we had any of the family’s train-related works this year. Once again, Naxos have a complete series of Lumbye recordings: the railway trip from Volume 1 (8.554851) is included on the ‘Best of’ single-CD selection (8.556843: Bargain of the Month – review).

The Radetzky March which traditionally closes the proceedings had something of a chequered history. It’s as beloved by most Austrians as Rule Britannia is in the UK, but its dedicatee was a reactionary general who did his best to quell the Italian reunification movement. It’s the traditional closing encore, with the audience clapping along with as little sense of irony as the Last Night proms audience, but it has recently been discovered that the traditional VPO version was orchestrated by the Nazi composer who wrote the music for the Horst Wessel Song, so the orchestra have turned back to an older orchestration, cleaner in every sense of the word, though I doubt that many would have noticed.

If the 2020 concert tempts you explore earlier recordings, Decca Eloquence have released a reminder that Willi Boskovsky, many of whose recordings remain available, was not their only Strauss family specialist in the form of recordings from the 1950s with Josef Krips conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (1950 mono), New Symphony Orchestra (1948 mono) and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1956 and 1957 stereo) in Memories of Vienna – music by Johann I and II and Josef, most of the tracks receiving their first CD release. Hilde Gueden is the soloist in Dorfchwalben aus Österreich. The LSO tracks sound surprisingly good for their age, the two with the NSO (from 78s) not at all bad, those with the VPO better still. The two items from 1948 (Annen and Perpetuum mobile) were slightly abridged to fit 78 rpm sides.

If you needed a reminder of Krips as a fine conductor, this could be it (4840692 [74:50]). The CD sells for around £8, so why do the prices for mp3 start at £8.99 and lossless sound prices range from £11.99 to £13.99 – and why no booklet with the downloads or streamed version?

I didn’t think Nelsons quite as magic as Krips, Boskovsky, Karajan or Kleiber, but there is much to enjoy in Sony's latest offering from Vienna, and in recording quality to equal the best that I’ve heard from these concerts. Willi Boskovsky used to direct, like the Strauss family, with violin in hand. Nelsons didn’t do that but he tooted very nicely as the horn-blowing postillion in the Lumbye Galop. Apart from omitting the timings of each piece, the booklet avoids the danger, inherent in such productions, of offering more style than substance.

Inevitably, like the Schönbrunn Summer concert (19075943542 – review), the music is better apprecited as part of the excitement of New Year than recollected in tranquillity but, though this is not quite a classic New Year’s Day concert, it's a very enjoyable one.

Brian Wilson

Carl Michael ZIEHRER (1843-1922)
Overture Die Landstreicher (The vagabonds) [5:09]
Josef STRAUß (1827-1870)
Liebesgrüße. (Love’s greetings) Waltz, Op.56 [8:10]
Liechtenstein-Marsch, Op.36 [3:15]
Johann STRAUß II (1825-1899)
Blumenfest (Flower festival) Polka. Op.111 [2:51]
Wo die Citronen blühn. (Where the lemon trees bloom) Waltz, Op.364 [9:37]
Eduard STRAUß (1835-1916)
Knall und Fall. (Without warning) Polka schnell, Op.132 [2:35]
Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)
Overture Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry) [7:10]
Josef STRAUß
Cupido (Cupid) Polka française, Op.81 [3:29]
Johann STRAUß II
Seid umschlungen, Millionen. (Be embraced, you millions) Waltz, Op.443 [10:18]
Eduard STRAUß
Eisblume. (Ice flower) Polka mazurka, Op.55 (arr. W. Dörner) [4:54]
Josef HELLMESBERGER II (1855-1907)
Gavotte [5:07]

Hans Christian LUMBYE (1810-1874)
Postillon-Galopp, Op.16/2 (arr. W. Dörner) [2:30]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Zwölf Contretänze, (12 Contredanses, WoO14/1-3, 7, 8, 10) [4:36]
Johann STRAUß II
Freuet euch des Lebens. (Enjoy life) Waltz, Op.340 [7:55]
Tritsch-Tratsch. Polka schnell, Op.214 [2:44]
Josef STRAUß
Dynamiden Waltz, (Mysterious powers of Magnetism) Op.173 [10:35]
Josef STRAUß
Im Flüge [2:09]
Johann STRAUß II
An der schönen blauen Donau, Op.314 [10:32]
Johann STRAUß I (1804-1849)
Radetzky March, Op.228 [3:55]

Also available as: 19439702389 (blu-ray); 19439702379 (DVD); 19439702391 (3 LPs) 


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