NEW YEAR’S CONCERT 2008 • Georges Prêtre, cond; Vienna P; Vienna St Op Ballet1 • DECCA B0010611 (2 CDs: 109:52); DECCA B0010693 (DVD: 145:00)1 Live: Vienna 01/01/2008
J. STRAUSS II Napoleon March. Orpheus Quadrille. Indigo and the Forty Thieves. Enjoy Life Waltz. Artistic Trifle Polka. Tittle-tattle Polka. Russian March. The Parisienne Polka. Emperor Waltz. The Bayadere Polka. On the Beautiful BlueRead more Danube. J. STRAUSS I Paris Waltz. Chinese Galop. Versailles Galop. Radetzky March. Josef STRAUSS Village Swallows from Austria. The Dragonfly Polka. Sport Polka. HELLMESBERGER Galopp. LANNER Court Ball Dances Waltz
I wonder if Clemens Krauss, when taking the podium for the inaugural New Year’s concert in Vienna on that last day of December 1939, knew what a moneymaking cow he was creating. Of course it took a while to get established (we didn’t even have the Blue Danube and Radetzky March as standard encores until 1958) and Krauss dominated the conducting along with a couple of outings by Joseph Krips until 1955. That year saw the ascendancy of the Vienna Philharmonic’s concertmaster, Willi Boskovsky, to the conductorial throne, a position he would occupy until his last go round in 1979. Boskovsky was responsible for the formation of the modern New Year’s concert experience, and there are many recordings of his with the orchestra that testify to his way with the music of Johann Strauss, Jr., but it is Lorin Maazel, who, outside of Boskovsky, has conducted more of these concerts than anyone else since Krauss, who has brought the VP New Year’s series to the phenomenal worldwide success it has been, and yes, there is a lot of money involved. The concerts are broadcast via Eurovision all over the world; this practice really started around 1987 when, after a series of eight concerts by Maazel, the orchestra voted to start rotating the conductors, in part to allow a long-denied Herbert von Karajan a chance to take a turn. His recording is now of classic status (DGG), and also the only one to ever use a vocalist, the then young Kathleen Battle.
The list of conductors is most impressive since Karajan’s turn, and goes like this:
Claudio Abbado, 1988, 1991
Carlos Kleiber, 1989, 1992
Lorin Maazel, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2005
Zubin Mehta, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2007
Riccardo Muti, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 2001, 2003
Seiji Ozawa, 2002
Mariss Jansons, 2006
Georges Prêtre, 2008
Daniel Barenboim will take over the reins in 2009. For the most part, these concerts and their subsequent recordings have produced some of the most idiomatic and wonderfully seductive Strauss (regardless of which family member) on record. My long time favorite with the orchestra, a delectable disc from the 1970s with Karl Böhm conducting, still remains the most beautifully played on disc. But aside from the odd CD here and there, these concerts are the place to go if you want the best of Strauss and the few other composers who show up every year. Of the above list, there are a few stinkers: Ozawa, Jansons, and Harnoncourt have no clue about this music, and seemed ill at ease in their performances. The others are superb (and one must have at least one of the Kleibers), but you can hardly go wrong with any of the others.
And this brings us at long last to the present issue. Georges Prêtre is no stranger to this orchestra; he was conducting at the Vienna State Opera as early as 1962 at the invitation of Karajan, and has appeared as guest conductor with the orchestra many times over the years. He is the first French conductor to lead the now-venerable New Year’s Concert, and I am happy to report that it ranks with the best done. Prêtre, as evident on the DVD release, is very, very comfortable in his role as conductor and as interpreter of this music, and like the most successful conductors, knows how and when to get out of the way of the orchestra. There are some novel Frenchified rarities on this program. The Napoleon March was created by Strauss II and dedicated to Napoleon III, Strauss siding with the French and English in the Crimean War. Strauss elder wrote the Paris Waltz for the 1838 season in the French capital. The work even quotes the Marseillaise, which was banned at the time. The Versailles Galop effectively pairs the woodwinds with the pizzicato strings. The tribute to Offenbach, Orpheus Quadrille, ends with a rousing performance of the famous “cancan.” The Parisienne by Johann the younger was written for a spring trip to Paris that he never got to take.
This is just a sampling of the particularly “French” aspects of this program, which is of course littered with the usual suspects found on the placards for this event. Especially welcome is a stunning performance of my favorite waltz, The Emperor, also the favorite of maestro Prêtre. The CDs for this event are selling at two-for-one, and Decca’s sound is spectacular, some of the best ever done for this concert. The DVD features PCM stereo and 5.0 DTS tracks. I listened to both, and I prefer (as almost always) the DTS surround, though I realize this is controversial in these pages. The PCM pretty much matches the CD issue, which is very fine indeed. There are a few bonus tracks on the DVD, giving three selections with the accompanying dance numbers that we are all so used to seeing on the PBS broadcasts. I must confess that it is revelatory hearing and seeing the entire concert without Walter Cronkite’s blabbering; he is sometimes appreciated, but I think after viewing this, the first time I have actually seen a DVD of this concert, I will get irritated from now on. It is also nice to watch the concert without being forced to see the dancing, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Georges Prêtre enjoy himself—he knows this music inside and out, and the orchestra really respects him.
So either way you go here, you cannot lose. Neither will break your wallet, and both provide immense enjoyment. If you are a Strauss or New Year’s Concert fan you must have this, as the appearance of Prêtre is an important historical occasion, but most of all you need it because of the superlative music-making.
Radetzky March, Op. 228by Johann Strauss Sr. Conductor:
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1848; Vienna, Austria
Sport, Op. 170by Josef Strauss Conductor:
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1865; Vienna, Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Fine, with a Gallic touchAugust 10, 2015By Wayne H. (McAlester, OK)See All My Reviews"Georges Pretre is a pleasure to watch in this fine Vienna New Year's concert. He was obviously enjoying the music and highly respectful of the orchestra. Programming several pieces with a French connection added a nice touch to the concert. Excellent sound and pictures."Report Abuse