COMPOSERS: Eduard Strauss,Johann Strauss I & II,Josef Strauss,Lumbye,Nicolai,Offenbach
WORKS: Music by Lumbye, Nicolai, Offenbach, Eduard Strauss, Josef Strauss, Johann Strauss I & II
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Georges Prêtre; Vienna State Opera Ballet/Michael Beyer
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3376 (NTSC system; LPCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)
Veteran French conductor Georges Prêtre wasn’t an obvious choice when he first conducted the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year concert two years ago, aged 83. He does, however, bring distinctive qualities to this very familiar repertoire.
Prêtre is, for instance, more liable to use wide variations of tempo within a piece than the metrically straighter Carlos Kleiber and Clemens Krauss (two great interpreters of Viennese dance music) used to, and this is immediately evident in the opening Fledermaus Overture. Dynamics are delicately calibrated, so that the aviary of bird-imitating ‘instruments’ in Im Krapfenwald’l chirp playfully against the accompanying orchestra, while the rapid polka Stürmisch in Lieb’ und Tanz has a Gallic lightness of texture which enhances its swirlingly kinetic impact.
For much of the time Prêtre uses minimal gestures, and I daresay an orchestra less totally immersed in the idiom might have difficulty discerning his intentions. The Vienna Philharmonic is, however, famously peerless in Strauss family music, and in the end it’s their inimitable combination of grace, incisiveness and intuitive rhythmicality that leaves the truly abiding impression. Delightfully sprightly wind playing in Perpetuum mobile, the dashing joie de vivre of Der Carneval in Paris, the magically nostalgic violins in Blue Danube – the list of special moments is truly a long one. Sound is excellent, particularly in 5.1 surround format, which is preferable to the standard CD issue of this event.
There’s half an hour or so of bonus material, including complete versions of the two specially filmed dance sequences interpolated in the telecast (the choreography is stultifyingly traditional), and a short ‘behind the scenes’ feature of minimal interest. That’s probably the only area in which those who package this venerable annual institution for video could do better next time. Terry Blain