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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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa