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NewYear 1987 759704
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Neujahrskonzert 1987 & Silvesterkonzert 1988
Kathleen Battle (soprano)
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Wiener Philharmoniker; Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan
rec. live, 1 January 1987 Golden Hall, Musikverein, Vienna; 31 December, 1988 Philharmonie, Berlin
Blu-Ray region code A,B,C
Picture Format: 1080i, 4:3
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DTS MA 5.0
Reviewed in PCM stereo
C MAJOR Blu-ray 759704 [157 mins]

I can well recall seeing both of these concerts on television within a year or so of their original release. Coming back to them again after 30 some years gives me pause to reflect on how much my tastes have changed over that time. It becomes clear to me that what I look or listen for in music has altered significantly since those heady days of the high-energy classical market boom.

C Major has brought together two of the New Year’s concerts that featured Herbert von Karajan towards the end of his life. They were originally issued on different labels, the 1987 on DG and the 1988 on Sony. It was a commendable idea for C Major to obtain the rights and package them together on one disc. The Blu-ray casing advertises that they have been “mastered from an HD source”. The 1987 Viennese concert looks sharp and crisp and shows the high standards that were achieved at the time. Occasionally the image can reveal a little too much information as in several shots of the Vienna Philharmonic’s snare drum which had obviously seen some better days at that point. The image of the 1988 Berlin concert has more issues apparent than does its predecessor. The image often seems rather soft in focus and some pixilation was evident when rendering the darkest colours.

The 1987 concert is the typical New Year's Day festival that has been airing on televisions around the world for decades. Karajan himself looks happy and energetic with a keen focus on the music. It opens with a stirring account of the Overture from Der Zigeunerbaron. During the Music of the Spheres Waltz he looks as if he is sitting on cloud nine throughout the piece. There is a superb account of The Pleasure Train Polka in which there are a couple of brief glimpses of the maestro looking very sternly at a particular section of the players.

The real highlight of the concert comes with Kathleen Battle’s performance of the Voices of Spring Waltz. Her tone is as light and buoyant as the birdsong that Strauss’ vocal gyrations would suggest. For me it brings back a wonderful memory of sitting in Avery Fisher Hall exactly a year later at a similar sort of gala concert but this time with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Aside from the expected concert footage, there is also some previously filmed footage of the dancing Lipizaner Stallions during the Beloved Anna Polka, and the Vienna ballet company in a choreographed version of The Emperor waltz. The ballet is not credited on the packaging, although the dancers are mentioned deep within the fine print of the booklet.

The move to Berlin for the 1988 New Year’s Eve concert brings with it more than just a change of orchestra and concert hall. Karajan is a very changed man after a year had passed. He is still commanding, but he certainly looks to be fighting through pain on more than one occasion.

The concert opens with Karajan’s broad, romantic view of the Allegro of the Prokofiev Symphony. He scores more points with me in the Gavotte than he does in the Larghetto which precedes it. The rest of the concert is devoted to the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, which boasted the then 17-year old Evgeny Kissin making his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic that evening. In those years, he was still the wunderkind virtuoso of the piano world. Any thought that he might not be able to match Karajan’s grandeur in the main theme of the first movement is quickly dispelled. The cameras tend to focus on Kissin throughout the concerto, and while he is technically quite brilliant there is a sense of a still young artist who has not quite internalized Tchaikovsky’s music to the fullest extent. Valdimir Horowitz and Byron Janis are two pianists in particular who succeed in that regard. The Janis recording is one I especially value because his career ended prematurely due to severe arthritis. Kissin’s celebrated debut is a festive event to be sure, but I look for something a little bit more from this music. I also find that the sound balance is not as assured than in the Vienna concert. Michel Glotz was the producer all of von Karajan’s recordings since the 1970’s. He was accustomed to the unusual demands that the maestro expected in terms of dynamics and balance, frequently to the detriment of the home listener. That is not much of an issue her. It is more that there are notable places where areas of the orchestra are too recessed, i.e. the woodwinds. The horn section is often given too much prominence and at one point, during several bars of a quiet section, the orchestra is permitted to drown out Kissin completely.

For me the real pleasure of this Blu-ray derives from the Vienna Concert which is now to be experienced absolutely complete. The Blu-ray contains three selections which were omitted from the original DG CD release, including the aforementioned Overture to Der Zigeunerbaron. It was definitely worth the wait.

Mike Parr

Contents
Neujahrskonzert 1987
 
Johann STRAUSS I (1804–1849)
Beliebte Annen-Polka op.137 (Beloved Anna Polka) [1:22]
Radetzky -Marsch, Op. 228 [3:16]
 
Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Der Zigeunerbaron, Overture [8:01]
Annen Polka op.117 [4:24]
Die Fledermaus, Overture [9:01]
Vergnügungszug , Op. 281 (Pleasure Train) [2:56]
Kaiserwalzer Op.437 (Emperor Waltz) [11:41]
Perpetuum Mobile - ein Musikalischer Scherz op.257 [3:08]
Unter Donner Und Blitz, Op. 324 (Thunder and Lightning Polka) [4:55}
Frühlingsstimmen Op.410 (Voices of Spring) [8:41]
An der schönen blauen Donau Op.314 (The Blue Danube) [10:34]
 
Josef STRAUSS (1827–1870)
Sphärenklange Waltz, Op. 235 (Music of the Spheres) [9:27]
Delirien- walzer, op. 212 (Delirium Waltz) [9:30]
Ohne Sorgen Op.271 (Without Cares) [2:04]

Johann STRAUSS II/Josef STRAUSS
Pizzicato-Polka [3:07]
 
SilvesterKonzert 1988
 
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 “Classical Symphony” (1917) [17:06]]

Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor Op. 23 (1874) [40:59]




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