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New Year To Remember
on 27 January 2012
Can't understand one of your reviewers wheeling out that old chestnut "Frankly Worse Than Most" as Franz Welser Most was dubbed in his early years by the London Philharmonic. Yes, all very funny and good, clean fun ! But watching this concert as it happened on January 1st, 2011, I felt "Frankly Better Than Most." Indeed, the only New Year's Concert that I know which is better is the absolutely remarkable, once in a lifetime one under Herbert von Karajan, who rediscovered this music shortly before his death and gave one of the most extraordinary performances of his extraordinary career.
Even so, apart from the delightful inclusion of Kathleen Battle, Karajan offered fairly "standard fare" whereas Welser Most offers a very interesting programme, with many items that I had never heard before, despite having numerous boxes of Strauss music from Decca. I was also struck by the really excellent, sharp, clear and precise playing that he gets from the Vienna Philharmonic. It is often said that the Vienna Philharmonic do not really need a conductor in this music since it came to them along with their mother's milk ! And that is almost certainly true. But occasionally a conductor comes along who can add something, as Karajan obviously did (the opening of the Blue Danube could have been written for the "Karajan Style.") But, to my mind, so does the new director of the Vienna State Opera, Franz Welser Most. I also noticed an uncanny relationship between what the conductor was conducting and what the orchestra was playing !! Normally, the Vienna Philharmonic just ignore the conductor; they know the music better than he does or ever will and the conductor is usually only there because he is famous. But not on this occasion; they seemed to follow him very attentively. And they "sounded" different; very clear, very precise. And pretty remarkable even for one of the world's top orchestras, on a good day the world's top orchestra.
So, in my opinion, a vintage New Year's Day Concert. Complaints ? Well, I should say that my original review was based on the live television broadcast, watched on my new HD television, which looked gorgeous but sounded awful on the flat screen television speakers. So we upgraded the speakers and bought a Blu-Ray player and bought the Blu-Ray disc. To my eyes, the original broadcast was far more colourful and glamorous than this rather flat Blu Ray production. On the whole, with the latest productions, I don't think Blu-Ray is worth the extra money over DVD -maybe 50p but no more. And the situation is made more complicated by the fact that most decent Blu Ray players "upscale" DVD to 1080 pixels. I have conducted numerous comparisons and, really, I can see no difference between a decent DVD and Blu-Ray on my excellent player. Maybe I am going blind !
Which is not to say that you should not buy the disk, obviously ! The quality of the original broadcast was superb and Decca know what they are doing. And the sound is impressive.But the picture is just a touch disappointing. I would expect Blu-Ray to be better than the telly but it wasn't. One way or another, buy it !