New Year's Concert 2015 (CD review)

Zubin Mehta, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony 88875037912 (2-disc set).

"Oh, my," I said under my breath when I received Sony's PR release about their New Year's Concert 2015. I mean, I had just reviewed the 2014 concert not more than...than, yes, a full year before. Incredible how time goes by.

Anyway, as I'm sure you know, the Vienna Philharmonic's custom of offering a New Year's Concert started in 1941, and it's been going strong ever since. EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and Sony are among some of the companies that have recorded the concerts over the past few decades, and in keeping with the orchestra's tradition of having no permanent conductor, they invite a different conductor to perform the New Year's duties each year. These conductors in recent times have included some of the biggest names in the business, including Carlos Kleiber, Willi Boskovsky, Herbert von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Georges Pretre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Franz Welser-Most, Daniel Barenboim, and for 2015 Zubin Mehta

This latest 2-disc concert from Maestro Mehta contains the usual assortment of familiar tunes from the Strauss family and Strauss contemporaries: Franz von Suppe's Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, Josef Strauss's Village Swallows of Austria, Eduard Strauss's At Full Steam, and Johann Strauss II's Student Polka, Wine, Women and Song, and Explosions, the evening concluding, of course, with The Blue Danube and the Radetzky March, complete with audience participation. Austrian law or something requires the latter two numbers, and if the orchestra didn't play them, the audience would stand up and start throwing things.

But there are some numbers that are firsts for a New Year's Concert, like Josef Strauss's Vienna Life, Johann Strauss I's Freedom March, Eduard Strauss's Where One Laughs and Lives, and Johann Strauss II's By the Elbe and Student Polka. Plus, other pleasant surprises.

Maestro Zubin Mehta is the longest-serving conductor in the Vienna Philharmonic's history, having first conducted the orchestra in 1961. The present event marks the fifth time he has conducted a New Year's concert, his last appearance being in 2007.

Mehta is in good form, as always. He puts a great deal of energy into each piece, as exemplified by the first number, the Suppe overture, which fairly bristles with life. The waltzes, too, have a nice sense of vitality to them and a lovely lilt. However, he doesn't bring to them as much warmth and grace as some other conductors do, so be prepared for more matter-of-fact readings than you might like. That said, the undoubted excitement Mehta creates may be enough to make you not care. Certainly, the polkas, marches, and galopps sound grand under his direction.

Favorites? Sure. It's always nice to hear Village Swallows from Austria, with its little bird sounds in the background, and it's one of Mehta's best handling of a waltz. Then, there's a sweet poignancy to By the Elba. I swear, the Vienna Phil could play this stuff in their sleep, and they always do it better than anyone else. It's in their genes.

In all, this is another good entry in the New Year's series, even if I wouldn't count it among the very best or most adventuresome, despite its few newcomers to the scene.

Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and balance engineers Tobias Lehman and Rene Moller recorded the music live on January 1, 2015 in the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, Vienna, Austria. Naturally, the sound appears very close up in order to minimize audience noise. Nevertheless, one is always aware of the audience, during quiet passages and in between notes. Of course, being there with the audience is part of the CD listener's experience, and I'm sure the CD listener wouldn't want it any other way, constant applause and all. Otherwise, the sound is clear, clean, dynamic, and dimensionally flat. Just remember that it puts you in the first row, so the upper range, especially, is a bit bright and bass could be a tad heavier.


To listen to 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