Notes and Editorial Reviews
SUMMER NIGHT CONCERT
Valery Gergiev, cond; Benjamin Schmid (vn); Vienna PO
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON 476 4211 (74:23)
Concerto in 1 Movement.
Scene with Cranes.
Pictures at an Exhibition.
class="COMPOSER12">J. STRAUSS II
the opening number in this document of Valery Gergiev’s concert at the Schönbrunn Palace this past summer, seems perfectly suited to the venue and occasion, according to my recollection of my 1972 visit to this magnificent edifice, with its gorgeous gardens (on the same trip, I heard the Vienna Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado perform Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1, and David Oistrakh in the Brahms concerto, quite a thrilling musical experience all around). I’m not quite as certain about
Pictures at an Exhibition
on a summer-evening concert. As much as I like the work, it somehow seems more “winter” to me. Well, never mind that. This CD affords the listener a chance to hear one of the world’s leading conductors paired with one of its leading orchestras in a varied program of (mostly) warhorses, all performed to these ears with utmost musical sensitivity and style.
I was particularly interested to hear the Kreisler arrangement of the Paganini D-Major Concerto. A number of violinists have taken this up, but not nearly as many as who play the original Paganini version. This is a pity, because Kreisler was a considerably better composer than Paganini, and his version, albeit truncated to one movement, represents a substantial improvement over Paganini’s virtuosic but musically shallow opus. There are not many stereo recordings of the work to my knowledge. The best-known versions all hail from the mono era, there being Kreisler’s own recording, of course, and also worthy versions by Campoli (London) and Gimpel (Vox). Even though
plays like Kreisler (for better or worse), the recording herein presented by Benjamin Schmid is as good as or better than any other I’ve heard, all things—including the sonics—considered. Schmid’s ability to toss off the most demanding passages seemingly effortlessly reminds me of someone (thinking of Germanic violinists) such as Gerhard Taschner’s similar ability in this regard. X
Scene with Cranes
from his incidental music to
is a brief piece, quite evocative indeed of a summer night (regardless of the fact that Sibelius had something quite different in mind). Its inclusion in the program was meant as a tribute to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the previous March, the crane in Japanese culture being viewed as a harbinger of long life.
Valery Gergiev is certainly no stranger to
Pictures at an Exhibition,
having recorded the work in 1989 with the London Philharmonic, c.1995 with the Kirov State Opera Orchestra, in 2000 with the Vienna Philharmonic, and in 2002 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. As in those previous recordings, Gergiev does virtually everything just right, providing the necessary contrasts between the moods evoked throughout the course of Mussorgsky’s traversal of the Hartmann gallery. His tempi are spot-on, and he elicits proper balance and structural continuity from his musicians. The Vienna Philharmonic plays with elegance, precision, and power. There is a no more refined orchestra in existence to this reviewer’s ears.
After the enthusiastic applause that greets the conclusion of
the concert closes with a rousing encore,
a polka schnell of Johann Strauss Jr.
In considering my recommendation of this CD, it is probably best to weight slightly more heavily the extramusical factors, given the recorded competition for most of the works on it. The recorded sound is rich and lush, but rather dry and lacking in ambience, perhaps because of the venue (a photograph in the booklet does not make clear whether the concert was indoors or outdoors, but a YouTube video of part of the concert shows that it was the latter). The program notes on the music are also rather skimpy, and even though audience noise during the performances themselves is almost nonexistent, some listeners may not want to hear applause on a CD. If those sorts of things don’t bother you, this CD ought to afford considerable enjoyment if the program content appeals to you.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Works on This Recording
Les préludes, S 97 by Franz Liszt
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1848/1854; Weimar, Germany
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