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Best of Neujahrskonzert
22 Dec 2008

Best of Neujahrskonzert

An annual event televised around the world, the Vienna Philharmonic's Neujahrskonzert has become a classical music institution, and as such is impervious to criticism. But not beyond it.

Best of Neujahrskonzert

Wiener Philharmoniker. Willi Boskovsky, Mariss Jansons, Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa

Deutsche Grammophon 073 4422 [DVD]

$27.98  Click to buy

Resolutely unchanging, year after year a conductor of note puts on an impish smile and bounces on his heels a bit as he leads the orchestra in music of the elder and younger Johann Strauss, with an occasional nod to other contemporaries of the waltz genre. A well-behaved audience of hoity-toities stays in their seats, though they may break into some energetic clapping along if encouraged. For variety’s sake, the TV director cuts away sometimes to filmed sequences, such as elegant dancing featuring impeccably coiffed and dressed slim pretty things, some of them definitively female, who glide around the gold-gilt halls of some palatial estate or other. And then there’s the horses…

So popular are these concerts that each new year Deutsche Grammophon puts out the CD release seemingly hours after the actual broadcast, and DVDs follow as well. Now DG releases a disc of “highlights from nine New Year’s concerts given between 1975 and 2007.” The booklet contains no other information, nor any rationale for the particular selection offered. If any viewers do not keep a visual memory of the more famous conductors in their heads, they will have to resort to the booklet, as the DVD itself only identifies the composer and composition. Carlos Kleiber is evidently DG’s favorite conductor, for he gets 6 of 17 total selections, including first and last. Indeed, his touch is light and joyful, and his stage manner appropriately light-hearted. Next in frequency comes Lorin Maazel, who tries to smile but whose face tends to settle back into a restrained scowl. He does pick up a violin for a nice solo in “Tales from the Vienna Woods.” Only one sequence features Willie Boskovsky, one of the great hosts of the event. Zubin Mehta conducts joyfully in his two selections. Not much personality emanates, however, from Seiji Ozawa, Mariss Jansons, or Ricardo Muti.

So as DVD sets go, this is a bare-bones affair, but if one wants a reminder of these particular new year’s festivities in any month of the year, pop the disc in and glide around the palatial halls of your own estate.

Chris Mullins

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