Classical CD Reviews

Summer Night Concert with Vienna Philharmonic & Valery Gergiev – DGG

This summer Austrian spectacle represents the second such musical soiree led by Valery Gergiev.

Published on September 14, 2011

Summer Night Concert: Schoenbrunn 20011 Virtuoso Pictures = LISZT: Les Preludes; KREISLER: Concerto in One Movement; SIBELIUS: Scene with Cranes, Op. 44, No. 2; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); J. STRAUSS II: Vom Donaustrande, Op. 356 – Benjamin Schmid, violin/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Valery Gergiev – DGG 476 4211, 73:40 [Distr. By Universal] ****:

Recorded 2 June 2011 at Schloss Schoenbrunn, this summer spectacle represents the second such musical soiree led by Valery Gergiev, who now rivals and exceeds Herbert von Karajan as a fine musician whose activities include “empire-building.” The Rolex company helped underwrite this concert, which with the cooperation of ORF, the European Broadcasting Union, had a relay to over sixty different countries as a “musical greeting” from Austria.

To pay homage to the Liszt bicentennial, Gergiev opens with a deliciously ripe performance of Les Preludes (1854), which has for some time been shedding its association as the most popular piece during National Socialism. The spirited reading–especially in the spirited VPO brass, piccolo, harp, and tympani–might rival my preferred inscription by Ferenc Fricsay for rhythmic suppleness and heated coloration. Fritz Kreisler virtually rearranged and condensed the first movement of the Paganini D Major Concerto, Op. 6, altering the orchestral part from the Italian operatic style to a kindly Viennese sentiment that occasionally smacks of the cabaret. Austrian virtuoso Benjamin Schmid makes light work of the Kreisler figures, his interweaving with the VPO often reminiscent of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy. Schmid sports a virile tone and superbly smooth technique, one well suited I would imagine to the Sibelius Concerto.

The Scene with Cranes from the Sibelius Kuolema (Death) serves as the companion piece to the more famous Valse Triste; here, Gergiev meant to honor the Japanese victims of the tsunami and nuclear radiation leaks. The Japanese revere the crane as a symbol of life and hope, and even its origami image remains a vital emblem of the peace movement. This expressive, mordant symphonic interlude conveys the rustle of fateful wings in the course of its almost mystical evocation of space.

A slick gloss–perhaps rendering the realization almost glib–covers the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s ubiquitous 1874 Pictures at an Exhibition, the composer’s homage to fellow artist Viktor Hartmann. The virtuosity of the VPO shines in the grotesque Gnomus, the liquid cantilena of Il Vecchio Castello, the dapper skittishness of the Tuileries, the primal musculature of Bydlo, the rampant paganism of Baba Yaga, and the eternally sumptuous Great Gate of Kiev.  A monster final chord, an extended display of applause, and the inevitable encore–in the manner of the New Year’s Concerts–by Johann Strauss, Jr., his Polka schnell From the Banks of the Danube, frolics in swirling, dazzling panoply and boundless energy. As far as I know, the Viennese audience can still be found clapping their hands.

—Gary Lemco




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