2002 New Year's Concert
JOHANN STRAUSS II:  Die Fledermaus Overture.  Künsterleben Waltz.  Zivio!  March.  Elisen-Polka Francaise.  Wiener Blut Waltz.  Tik-Tak Polka.  An der sch–nen, blaüen Donau Waltz.  JOSEF STRAUSS:  Die Schw”tzerin Polka.  Vorw”rts! Polka.  Aquarellen Waltz.  Die Libelle Polka.  Plapperm”ulchen! Polka.  JOSEPH HELLMESBERGER:  Danse diabolique. JOHANN STRAUSS I:  Radetzky March
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.

PHILIPS 468 999 (F) (DDD) TT: 79:00

LEHÁR:  Gypsy Feast (Ballet Scene).  March and Palótas (Where the Lark Sings). Preludium religioso (Rodrigo).  March (Fairy Tale from 1001 Nights).  Ballet Music (Peter and Paul in Cockaigne). Fata Morgana (Concert Galop).  Coral Lips (Polka Mazurka).  Resignation (Fürstenkind).  Danse Suite.  Chinese Ballet Suite.
Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Michael Jurowski, cond.

cpo 999 761 (F) (DDD) TT:  67:55

Franz Lehá (1870-1948) fit perfectly into Vienna's musical scene—although he wasn't a native.  Born in Komarno, at the time in Hungary, now in Czechoslovakia, young Franz, after studying violin at the Prague Conservatory, doubtless at the insistence of his military bandleader father, began his career as conductor of a military orchestra.  At the age of twenty he was the youngest band director in the entire Imperial and Royal Army. Although he always wanted to be a composer he had no training except for harmony and counterpoint.  Stefan Frey's fine CD notes state in early stages of his composing career Lehár "assimilated the technique of instrumentation by voice vote."  During a rehearsal he would take "voice votes" from members of the orchestra, advice he obviously respected and perhaps needed.  His first attempt at opera was Rodrigo in 1892, but he didn't attract much attention until he wrote Gold and Silver Waltz.  As a result of this he was chosen to write the score for Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), a project of Viennese writers Leo Stein and Victor LÈon who originally had hired Richard Heuberger to compose the music. In 1905 when  Witwe was premiered in Vienna one major critic called it "one of the most distasteful pieces he had ever seen in the theatre."  But audiences kept coming, Widow became the hottest ticket in town, continued for more than 600 performances and Lehár's fame was assured..

This cpo CD affords the opportunity to hear many of Lehar's lesser-known orchestral works, taking its title from Fata Morgana, a "concert-gavotte" composed in 1899.  In 1906, the year after Widow, Lehar wrote Peter and Paul in Cockaigne, a children's operetta and from this we hear a suite of short dances including some for piglets, chickens, various vegetables, gingerbread and honey nymphs.  The disk ends with two dance suites, the first, dating from 1935, simply called "Dance Suite," with a "swingy" waltz given a set of variations and a final march. The second is labeled "Chinese Ballet Suite," written in 1937 and later added to The Land of Smiles as a ballet insert.  The titles Preludium religioso and Resignation promise more than the music delivers.  There's nothing of major musical import on this CD but it is a pleasure to be able to hear it, particularly in spirited performances by the fine Berlin Radio Orchestra under Michael Jurowski's direction, all recorded on a single day, Feb. 23, 2001.  The sound is rich and wide-range.

Seiji Ozawa is the eleventh conductor to lead the annual Vienna New Year Concert, a tradition that began officially Jan.1,1941 with Clemens Kraus on the podium (for several years before this there were Holiday concerts, but this was the first on New Year's Day). Ozawa surely is not a stranger to the VPO; he has appeared often with them for more than three decades, and now that he is Music Director of the Vienna State Opera—beginning September 2002—he doubtless will have an even closer relationship with the famed orchestra. Philips rushed release of this recording; it was available in Europe just about a week after the event. Ozawa fares best in the polkas and marches; waltzes, particularly Blue Danube, have a stilted quality far removed from elegance the music received in past years under the baton of others, particularly Carlos Kleiber. Track timings are not given either in the notes or on the CD, nor is total timing (a generous 78:48).  A new feature is a short track with about a dozen multi-language Happy New Year greetings. 

Sonic quality is excellent but the CD itself might be perplexing to some consumers.  The label at first glance appears to be blank. Upon closer observation you'll find, in white letters about 1/16th of an inch high printed on the outer ridge of the disk against a gold background—very difficult to read—a statement this is the 2002 New Year Concert, plus copyright information.  What happened to the idea that a disk label should give pertinent information on what is contained—and in legible format? 

R.E.B. (March 2002)