When the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concerts were first televised, I always enjoyed scanning the audience to see those elderly, distinguished, granite-jawed males, often with sabre-scarred cheeks, and their perma-tanned wives dripping with dubiously acquired bling. Nowadays, they’ve all gone to that great Vahalla in the sky, to be replaced more wholesomely by the likes of Angela Merkel and Dame Julie Andrews.
I was interested to read recently that the world’s most predictable (and expensive) concert, with all its schmaltz and leaden, contrived humour, was originally a Nazi propaganda/morale boosting exercise, held on New Year’s Eve! This year’s effort was conducted by the 35-year-old Gustavo Dudamel (aka “The Dude”), the event’s youngest maestro ever.
What fascinates me is just how much music the Strauss family composed: one of the pieces by Johann Strauss II this time was opus 436! They seem to have no trouble programming a concert of virtually unknown gems year after year. For me, this year’s hits were Waldteufel’s The Skaters’ Waltz, whose trumpet tune in the opening bars, the otherwise excellent liner notes bizarrely inform us, may have been inspired by the horn calls introducing Bruckner’s Third Symphony. Another gem, alone worth the price of the CD, is the overture to Franz von Suppé’s operetta Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades – no connection to either Pushkin or Tchaikovsky’s opera.) The soprano was later the first Bayreuth Brünnhilde!
Dudamel ratchets up the excitement in a way I’ve never heard the VPO play. Why don’t we ever hear things like this at regular concerts? My other favourites are Josef Strauss’s Ländler The Girl from Nasswald – it’s the quintessentially sentimental but absolutely irrestistible Viennese bon-bon – and the Moon Chorus from Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Nicolai was one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic. Needless to say, the playing is delectable.