New Year’s Concert 2013 (CD review)

Franz Welser-Most, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony Classical 88765440712 (2-CD set).

The annual New Year’s concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic date back to somewhere between the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras. Or so it seems. Actually, the tradition got started in 1941 and has been going strong ever since. Companies recording the concerts over the past few decades have included EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and Sony; and, of course, the orchestra invites a different conductor to perform the duties each year. These conductors in recent years have included some of the biggest names in the business, including Carlos Kleiber, Willi Boskovsky, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Georges Pretre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, and 2013’s maestro, Franz Welser-Most.

Welser-Most also conducted the 2011 concert, so he’s no stranger to the proceedings. What’s more, in addition to his post as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, he is presently the General Music Director of the Vienna State Opera and has strong family links to Johann Strauss ancestry dating back to the early nineteenth century. You might say that music, and especially the music of Vienna, is in Welser-Most’s blood.

For 2013’s concert, Welser-Most and the concert’s organizers divided the program into two major sections: The first part contains the usual Strauss, Suppe, and Lanner tunes; the second part celebrates the 200th anniversary of both Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi with samples of their music interspersed with Strauss numbers. Sony recorded almost all of the concert, twenty selections, in this two-disc set.

Things get off to a typically rousing start with Josef Strauss’s Soubrette polka, a lively and explosive affair. Next, we hear Johann Strauss Jr.’s Kiss Waltz, one of the Waltz King’s sweeter concoctions. And so it goes through polkas, waltzes, quadrilles, dances, galops, fantasies, and marches. Welser-Most breaks up the Strauss family music with tunes from Franz von Suppe (The Light Cavalry Overture), Wagner (Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin), Joseph Hellmesberger (Between the Two of Us polka), Joseph Lanner (Styrian Dances), and Verdi (Battle Music from Act III of Don Carlo).

My own favorites among the selections include the aforementioned Kiss Waltz, Josef Strauss’s Music of the Spheres waltz and The Spinner polka, and Strauss Jr.’s lovely Hesperus’ Path Waltz.

Naturally, the festivities end with the inevitable Blue Danube Waltz and then the Radetzky March, as always with the audience joyously joining in. Welser-Most maintains the high standard of these affairs with vigorous, buoyant performances, and the Vienna Philharmonic play as faultlessly as ever.

Teldex Studio Berlin recorded the performance live for Sony Classical on January 1, 2013, in the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins. Normally, I’m not fond of live recordings, but once a year, every year, I make an exception for the New Year’s concert by the Vienna Philharmonic. The set is not so much a recording of  music as it is a recording of an event, and as such I suppose one can cut it a little slack in terms of ultimate fidelity. Most live recordings try to minimize audience noise; this one doesn’t. Indeed, it positively revels in it, reminding the home listener at every opportunity that there is a live audience at the concert enjoying every minute of the proceedings with their applause and laughter.

The engineers miked the orchestra fairly close-up and obtain a very big sound, with an enormous dynamic range and huge impact. The result is quite spectacular and provides plenty of visceral musical thrills. There is not a lot of depth, air, or even hall ambience involved, though, so don’t expect a particularly realistic offering here. Although the strings are somewhat bright, thin, and forward, we might expect that, given the circumstances.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa