2017 New Year's Concert (CD review)

Gustavo Dudamel, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony Classical 88985376182 (2-disc set).

Usually, I dislike albums recorded live. Too much noise, too much applause and shuffling of feet and rustling of programs, too much coughing and wheezing, too much breathing. But with these yearly New Year's Concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic, the whole business of its being live is, in fact, the point. This year, at least we have Gustavo Dudamel to liven things up.

As you are aware, the Vienna Philharmonic began its custom of offering a New Year's Concert in 1941, and it hasn't changed much since. EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and now Sony are among some of the companies that have recorded the VPO's concerts over the stereo years, 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, Zubin Mehta, and Mariss Jansons. So Maestro Dudamel is in good company.

Of course, Dudamel is not quite in the same category as a Boskovsky or Karajan when it comes to Strauss waltzes. Nevertheless, he appears to be a quick learner, and he fills this 2017 concert for the most part with his usual infectious enthusiasm, if not always with the same sense of joyous occasion evidenced by the aforementioned two conductors.

Then, too, the program appears nicely varied, with not only the Strauss family represented but a few newcomers as well. The lineup of tunes includes the following:

Disc one:
Lehar: Nechledil March
Waldteufel: Les Patineurs, Walzer, Op. 183
Strauss II: 's gibt nur a Kaiserstadt, 's gibt nur a Wien, Polka, Op. 291
Strauss, Josef: Winterlust, Polka schnell, Op. 121
Strauss II: Mephistos Höllenrufe, Walzer, Op. 101
Strauss II; So ängstlich sind wir nicht! Polka schnell, Op. 413
Suppe: Pique Dame: Overture
Ziehrer: Hereinspaziert! Walzer, Op. 518
Nicolai: Mondaufgang
Strauss II: Pepita-Polka, Op. 138

Disc two:
Strauss II: Rotunde-Quadrille, Op. 360
Strauss II: Die Extravaganten, Walzer, Op. 205
Strauss I: Indianer Galopp, Op. 111
Strauss, Josef: Die Nasswalderin, Polka Mazur, Op. 267
Strauss II: Auf zum Tanze! Polka schnell, Op. 436
Strauss II: Tausend und eine Nacht, Walzer, Op. 346
Strauss II: Tik-Tak Polka, Polka schnell, Op. 365
Strauss, Eduard: Mit Vergnügen, Polka schnell, Op. 228
Strauss II: An der schönen blauen Donau, Walzer, Op. 314
Strauss I: Radetzky-Marsch, Op. 228

Gustavo Dudamel
Here are a few of the highlights for me: Things get off to a rousing if somewhat boisterous start with Franz Lehar's "Nechledil March," followed by a reasonably lilting if somewhat stiff Skaters Waltz by Emile Waldteufel. It's interesting that it isn't until the third selection that we find anything by the waltz king himself, Johann Strauss Jr.'s polka "There's Only One Imperial City, There's Only One Vienna." But rest assured that by the end of the concert, Dudamel will have covered the famous Strauss family: Johann Sr., Johann Jr., Josef, and Eduard.

Anyway, Maestro Dudamel adds a joyous bounce to most of the polkas, and he does an especially good job with the "Mephisto's Calls" waltz, providing it with a romantic yet somewhat sinister tone. Franz von Suppe's "Pique Dame" overture, though, was probably the most-enjoyable for me on disc one, as Dudamel maintains a healthy dose of operatic melodrama in it. Then, the Vienna Boys Choir add a touching element to Otto Nicolai's "Moon Chorus."

The two Strauss Jr. pieces that open disc two are delightful and the waltz "Die Extravaganten" in particular sounds quite appealing. But the real charmer on the second disc is the landler "The Girl from Nasswald," which is as lovely as one could ask. The two concluding works are the ones we all expect: "The Blue Danube" waltz and the "Radetzky March," both sounding adequate though a trifle perfunctory.

Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and engineers Tobias Lehmann and Rene Moller recorded the music live for Teldex Studio Berlin at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins on January 1, 2017. Although the engineers captured the music live, it isn't too close up nor too bright or forward. In fact, it has a nice, warm, ambient glow to it. It also displays a strong dynamic range and impact. If anything, it's a touch soft, so don't expect any ultimate transparency, just a smooth, comfortable response. Do expect, however, a good deal of applause after each number


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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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