The New Year's Gala Concert given by the Berlin Philharmonic is one of the fixtures of the German music scene, as much as the Vienna Philharmonic concerts are of the Austrian one. This concert from 1996 is typical of the genre, including a selection of highbrow lollipops, a brilliant internationally renowned soloist (Maxim Vengerov) and a generous helping of waltzes with which to swing in the new year. Claudio Abbado brings his usual unflashy savoir-faire
to the job of conducting, and the orchestra responds with some gorgeously silky, perfectly executed, if not always electrifying, playing. Vengerov makes Ravel's Tzigane
flash and thunder with gypsy passion and gives an equally fiery performances of Brahms' Hungarian Dances
Nos. 7, 17 and 21. If the Swedish Radio Choir aren't quite as thrilling in Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes
and Gypsy Songs
they still do a fine job with a remarkably tight sense of ensemble and excellent phrasing. All in all, this is an attractive (if not earth-shattering) performance from one of the world's finest orchestras.
On the DVD: there are no pleasant surprises here. The visual content includes concert shots of the orchestra, choir and soloist in the Philharmonie Hall. There are no subtitles in any language for the choral sections, and the special features comprise two trailers for Cecilia Bartoli's Vivaldi album and a recording of Penderecki's The Seven Gates of Jerusalem. --Warwick Thompson