Andrew Lamb watches the Vienna Philharmonic's annual feast of waltzes
As regularly as the earth orbits the sun, the Viennese New Year's Concert comes along to usher in the New Year, its subsequent progress to CD and DVD smartly tuned. This year’s conductor is Franz Welser-Möst, returning two years after an acclaimed debut at the event. Others may have more charisma but he brings to the tradition the instinctive grace of a native Austrian.
Increasingly the concerts seem to concentrate on works not previously included. The beauties of Josef Strauss’s Sphärenklänge are familiar enough, but the younger brother’s very special talents are also evidenced in the seldom-heard Hesperus-bahnen, the very last waltz of his short life. With three of his polkas and a quadrille also included, Josef’s compositions this year outnumber those of his elder brother. Johann is heard mostly in waltz tempo in works that above all evoke his travels to Italy (Wo die Citronen blühn) and Pavlovsk in Russia (Aus den Bergen).
A somewhat curious tradition of the concerts these days is the inclusion of a piece by Josef Hellmesberger – a one-time VPO principal conductor, to be sure, but a relatively minor Viennese dance composer. Curious, too, is this year’s inclusion of the elder Johann Strauss’s Erinnerung an Ernst, a souvenir of violin virtuoso Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s 1840 visit to Vienna that largely comprises variations on the ‘Carnival in Venice’ designed to show off the various sections of Strauss’s orchestra. More significantly this year’s concert hails the bicentenaries of both Verdi and Wagner, not only with their own compositions each but also in Johann junior’s Melodien-Quadrille based on melodies from Ernani, Macbeth and Rigoletto.
What more can one say? The formula is familiar, the quality of performance and presentation assured. The CD and DVD spin-offs are by tradition avidly snapped up, and there’s no reason why this year’s should be any different.
The CD will be released by Sony Classical in Austria on January 4 and in the UK on January 14.