This is one of the long series of New Year's Day concerts from Vienna and features the conducting of Franz Welser-Most for the second time. This may not come as too much of a surprise as Welser-Most's Viennese credentials have been recognised and supported by a major bank in Upper Austria for over 25 years as a cultural envoy for upper Austria. This level of commitment to Welser-Most is more than justified by this particular release.
There is an unusual number of first performances in this year's concert, partly to do with the 2013 anniversary celebrations of Wagner and Verdi's bicentenaries. As a result we hear Wagner's Lohengrin Prelude to Act 3 and Verdi's Act 3 ballet music from Don Carlo. In addition there are other references such as J. Strauss II's Melodies Quadrille based on Verdian themes.
Another emphasis in this year's concert is the music of Josef Strauss with seven of his works of which five receive début performances at these concerts. His popular Music of the Spheres waltz is included and is a reminder of his own qualities as a composer of Viennese music. One extra link with Josef Strauss was the presence of his great-granddaughter whose 90th birthday took place the previous July and who was briefly identified on film, clearly enjoying the concert.
Hellmesberger II and Lanner, both important figures in the Viennese musical world, are included too and the concert includes Suppe's Light Cavalry overture, last heard here in a gripping performance with Muti very much in charge. Welser-Most takes a more genial view which fits in with his whole approach to the concert.
Geniality is a strong feature of the Carnival of Venice Fantasy by J. Strauss I which allows individual members and sections of the orchestra to be highlighted as the piece progresses. Once again, this is not the first time it has been played in recent memory with the last performance being conducted by Pretre in 2010. On this occasion each of the highlighted members receives a gift, mostly in the form of a soft toy which goes down very well with the audience and the orchestra. Welser-Most is presented with a chef's hat as befits his role as chief chef.
The concert then rapidly reaches the end with the traditional New year's greeting, the Blue Danube and the Radetzky March which is started with a particularly energetic and enthusiastic side-drummer. The audience clap very well and show considerable appreciation at the end.
The camera work has some remarkable shots from high up and which make use of phenomenal zoom capabilities of the lenses to cover all sorts of angles and views within the hall. This avoids rapid changes of cameras and inter-cutting and is a considerable technical advance. The imaging is especially crisp and with excellent colour. Attractive and short sequences of Austrian images are cut into the footage of the concert during some items. The sound is of an equally high standard and is presented in DTS 5.1 surround and stereo.
There are several bonuses including the ballet sequences which follow the usual pattern of mini-stories of dance-based romantic situations. There is also the option to watch the concert items previously shown with Austrian images seen as by the audience and therefore without the Austrian scenes. There is also a 24 minute feature called 'Honeymoon' which follows a newly married couple, attractively acted, touring round various Austrian venues. This is really a travelogue set to music largely played by sub-groups from the orchestra. All the venues, the music and the performers are sub-titled which makes the film far more informative than some previous films of this type. Once more, the photography is outstanding both artistically and technically.
I would suggest that this disc continues the fine standards of previous issues and surpasses some. As such it deserves to be considered seriously both as an 'only' purchase or one of a sequence for committed collectors.
on 2 January 2013
In a concert emphasizing both the festive nature of the music being performed and the music of Josef Strauss, the middle brother, in the Strauss family dynasty of Austrian composers noted for their exceptional compositions of waltzes, polkas and other dances, this year's "New Year's Day Concert", should be noted for both the excellent playing of the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and the fine conducting of Vienna State Opera Music Director - and Cleveland Orchestra Music Director - Franz Welser-Most. Most of the pieces performed include lesser known waltzes and polkas composed by Josef Strauss, regarded by his peers as the "Schubert of Waltz composers", with his best known work, the waltz "Music of the Spheres" among the highlights of the program; if for no other reason this is a concert that should be remembered for emphasizing Josef Strauss' exceptional gifts as a composer, surpassed only by his brother Johann Strauss II. It is followed later by a piece I have heard performed live by the Wiener Philharmoniker and other American orchestras before, the Prelude to Act III from Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin", in honor of the forthcoming bicentennial of his birth, but this is an especially distinguished interpretation emphasizing the warm, sonic qualities of the great hall of the Musikverein itself. Of course, the program concludes with the traditional encores of Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube" waltz and Johann Strauss I's "Radetzky March". To my surprise, this is the second consecutive year in which the Wiener Philharmoniker has opted not to issue the video and the CD by Deutsche Grammophon; instead, Sony is releasing both. The video may include scenes of Vienna State Opera Ballet dancers performing to the strains of several pieces, most notably those composed by Josef Strauss, scenes of the Danube River shrouded in snow-covered forests - during the performance of the "Blue Danube Waltz" - and a brief interview with the program host, again this year actress Julie Andrews, discussing with conductor Franz Welser-Most, Viennese reaction to Wagner's music. (The annual program is shown worldwide and, in the United States, is broadcasted as a co-production of public television station WNET and ORF, Austrian national radio and television.)
Courtesy of the Wiener Philharmoniker's website, here is the program, not including the three encores of which the first was a brief Josef Strauss piece followed by the "Blue Danube Waltz" and the "Radetzky March":
Josef Strauss: The Soubrette, Fast Polka, op. 109
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Kiss Waltz, op. 400
Josef Strauss: Theater Quadrille, op. 213
Johann Strauss, Jr.: From the Mountains, Waltz, op. 292
Franz von Suppé: Overture to the Operetta "Light Cavalry"
Josef Strauss: Music of the Spheres, Waltz, op. 235
Josef Strauss: The Spinstress, Polka française, op. 192
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Act III of the Romantic Opera "Lohengrin", WWV 75
Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr.: In Confidence, Polka mazur, op. 15
Josef Strauss: Hesperus' Paths, Waltz, op. 279 Josef Strauss: The Runners, Fast Polka, op. 237
Joseph Lanner: Styrian Dances, op. 165
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Melodies Quadrille, op.112
Giuseppe Verdi: Prestissimo from the Ballet Music in Act III of the Opera "Don Carlo"
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Where the Lemon Trees Bloom, Waltz, op. 364
Johann Strauss, Sr.: Memories of Ernst or The Carnival of Venice, Fantasy, op. 126
on 16 February 2013
Concert 3.5/5, Picture 3.5/5, Sound 5/5
This year Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst returns for his second New Year's Concert. Eleven items out of 19 are first performances at a New Year's Concert, including notably Wagner's Vorspiel from Lohengrin and Verdi's Ballet music from Don Carlo, for the composers' anniversaries. Also featured are works from Joseph Lanner and Joseph Hellmesberger II, as in Welser-Möst's debut in 2011.
The more well-known items (apart from the traditional encores) are von Suppé's Light Cavalry Overture, Josef Strauss' Music of the Spheres Waltz and the Chatterbox Quick Polka, just before the start of which Joseph Strauss' great-granddaughter, now in her 90s can be spotted. At about halfway the camera also briefly catches a glimpse of Julie Andrews who has been hosting the American PBS version of the Concert for a few years with great charm.
From last year the concert is no longer directed by Brian Large as in previous years but there have been no major changes except more use of the camcat which runs on wire diagonally across the ceiling from the front to the back of the hall. The rotation shots occur too many times and too quickly for comfort and add nothing to the concert experience.
Alas video quality isn't so good and it's obvious from the outset the picture is softer than previous Blu-rays from Decca (2011 with Welser-Möst) or Sony itself (2012 with Mariss Jansons). All these are encoded in 1080i60 AVC but this year the bit-rates are notably lower than previous years: 12-33 Mbps vs. 25-30s Mbps. Both of the Sony pictures are darker than the Decca but have more white clipping (noticeable on the pages of the music) and the hall has a dark yellow hue instead of a shiny gold. This could be due to more bonus items (the three live concert footage without the scenery, absent from previous years) that need to fit onto the disc and the slightly longer concert runtime (2h03'). I'd prefer not having the live concert clips in exchange for a top notch picture.
Audio tracks are PCM stereo and dts-HD MA 5.0 and no complaints there.
Welser-Möst isn't one to get too excited about. He has a rather distant and rigid conducting style and the music reflects that: the waltzes could do with more lilt and everything in general more drive. Overall this concert is only slightly better than his 2011 debut.
The concerts in recent years have more new pieces, more leisurely paced works and less familiar ones. While it has always been a tradition to introduce new items from the Strauss family too much unfamiliarity and non-Strauss tends to change the tone and mood of the occasion. Even the traditional greeting is shortened. There is not enough sense of uplifting joy and satisfaction at the end.
The concerts in the old days with Willi Boskovsky (on DG DVD) seem so much more fun, relaxed and truly joyous occasions and this is something I feel has been lacking to various degrees in recent years. There is some ill-at-ease attempt to rectify it this year with Welser-Möst handing out soft toys to various soloists of the orchestra during The Venice Carnival Fantasia and wearing the chef's hat and the percussionists trying to outdo each other during the Galoppin.
The ballet sequences in the Galoppin are especially delightful with dancers in fancy colourful period costumes holding masks and flirting with each other in a garden maze.
Avid collectors of the New Year's Concert videos will buy this anyway so the minor complaints won't matter. Of the four Blu-ray concerts released so far I'd pick Jansons (2012) but it still falls short of the memorable Karajan and Kleiber concerts by a long shot.
on 6 March 2013
It would be churlish to say -- "same old " same old" ' No-one surely expects other than affectionate fondling and
caressing of the best of the Strauss family canon, each January first? New each time around, of course, and
if you add each DVD to a familiar spot on the designated music shelf, you can soon run out of space, within even a
decade! Well worth a foot or two, as the very best of light music played by possibly the very best of the best orchestras.
on 9 June 2013
AS always these recorded live New Year's day video relays are my real delight in life to purchase and play over and over again! This years is again excellently conducted by a seriously dedicated gentleman, but with a New Year sense of humour. This respected conductor, Franz Welser-Most has a historical link, through one of his great grandmothers, with the Strauss families involvement with Viennese musical life!
I purchase every year the commercial recording release of this GREAT ANNUAL NEW YEAR VIENNESE STRAUSS CELEBRATION, as well as always watching the worldwide TV broadcast relayed by satellite from VIENNA. This years concert has added bonuses of a Wagner and Suppe concert work which gives added flavour to this years programme.
I have about 10 years of commercial video releases and before that all the cd's from the earliest stereo releases.
Before that, as a young boy, I would listen to the BBC relay on the "WIRELESS"
So these day's having the LUXURY of Blu Ray surround sound video releases of this "ANNUAL RITUAL" is just something remarkable as an audio visual presentation.It is just like being there ,I IMAGINE, as so far I have never been lucky enough to get a ticket in the yearly ballot !!!
So any lover of Viennese music just cannot go wrong with these purchases.