2009 New Year's Concert

2009 New Year's Concert by the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Daniel Barenboim.  Recorded January 1, 2009 at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins. Here's the program:

1. Johann Strauss II "Ouvertüre" to Eine Nacht in Venedig ("Overture" to A Night in Venice)
2. Johann Strauss II "Märchen aus dem Orient" (Waltz) ("Fairy Tales from the Orient")
3. Johann Strauss II "Annen-Polka" (Anna's Polka)
4. Johann Strauss II "Schnellpost-Polka" ("Express Mail Polka")
5. Johann Strauss II "Rosen aus dem Süden" (Waltz) ("Roses from the South")
6. Johann Strauss II "Freikugeln" (Polka) ("Magic Bullets")
7. Johann Strauss II "Ouvertüre" and "Einzugs-Marsch" from Der Zigeunerbaron ("Overture" and "Entrance March" from The Gypsy Baron)
8. Johann Strauss II "Schatz-Waltzer" ("Treasure Waltz")
9. Joseph Hellmesberger II "Valse espagnole" (Spanish Waltz)
10. Johann Strauss I "Zampa-Galopp"
11. Johann Strauss II "Alexandrinnen-Polka" ("Alexandrine's Polka")
12. Johann Strauss II "Unter Donner und Blitz" (Polka) ("Thunder and Lightening Polka")
13. Josef Strauss "Sphären-Klänge" (Waltz) ("Music of the Spheres")
14. Johann Strauss II "Éljen a Magyár!" (Polka) ("Hurrah for Hungary")
15. Joseph Haydn "Finale" from Abschiedssymphonie ("Finale" from Farewell Symphony)
16. Johann Strauss II "So ängstlich sind wir nicht!" (Polka) ("We're not that worried!")
17. Johann Strauss II "An der schnönen, blauen Donau" (Waltz) ("The Blue Danube Waltz")
18. Johann Strauss I "Radetzky-Marsch" ("Radetzky March")

This disc also has three valuable bonus features, all in great HD TV:

1. Schatz-Waltzer Ballet (Treasure Waltz Ballet)
2. Éljen a Magyár! Ballet (Hurrah for Hungary Ballet)
3. Linz 2009 documentary. The city of Linz and the Weiner Philharmonic create a remarkable video celebrating Linz and the Austrian countryside.

Directed for TV by Brian Large. Released 2009, disc was apparently recording using 48kHz/24 bit sound sampling and has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A-

When it comes to picture quality,  we are not talking here about profundity. No, for this 2009 New Year's Concert disc, the operative word for PQ is pulchritudinous---or "pretty." This has got to be one of the prettiest video ever made. And the reason for this has got to be the director, Brian Large. Yes, Large, whose résumé is swamped with with so many hundreds of  videos to his credit (including many Vienna Philharmonic New Year's shootings), must know everything there is to know about pretty pictures.

Here's our recipe. Start with the splendid Vienna Goldener Saal des Musikvereins with its symmetrical, shapely coziness and ravishing architectural ornamentation. Fill every enticing unoccupied space with dazzling banks of all the cut flowers on the market in Austria and Italy. Talk the divine Philharmonic into hiring 2 women musicians, both alluringly gorgeous. Invite the admirable, elegant elite of the nation, all of whom will dress in excellent garments knowing they will be photographed for all the world to see forever (I especially liked the two comely ladies in stunning kimonos). Whip up the camera crews to make radiant closeups of everything from bewitching angles. As soon as the lovely polkas and waltzes may start to get tedious, mix in resplendent shots of sightly lakes, sublime swans, grand forests, pleasing vineyards, and magnificent mountains. Have cute and angelic student cupids and nymphs prance throughout the superb building and down the aisles charming the audience. (It doesn't hurt that Barenboim did a classy job of directing the graceful orchestra and fine audience without a score and that the orchestra was marvelous playing the delicate, delightful dance program.) Include admirable bonus features, all in nice high-definition video, of fair, beauteous girls and statuesque, handsome men dancing to Strauss in exquisite palaces. Give the appealing city of Linz an ideal chance to show how its wonderful buildings, bridges, and barges exercise their refined talents as performance artists. Finally garnish with members of the Philharmonic playing in all manner of fascinating places and with the foxy percussion section playing Oropaxis in consort with a blast furnace.

Well, if you made it this far, you're right, the previous paragraph of this mini-review contains 48 synonyms of the word "pretty." So now you deserve some screen shots.

This might be the most magnificent photo of the Golden Hall  that I've seen:

One of a number of full orchestra shots. Today's HDVD resolution just barely makes this work, and Large's 2009 picture is just a tad soft:

Large provides a fair number of multi-section views:

Here's one of many fine images of flowers and Austrian landscape shots that are used to break up the monotony of so many waltzes and polkas:


A nice 90% orchestra shot.

Large didn't pay much attention to the 1st violin section; but here's a good picture of the concertmaster and the lady assistant concertmaster. When you saw the Wiener Phil in the old days, there was not a woman on the stage, but this is slowly starting to change:

Two good row shots:

This orchestra uses a special style of horn:

"Finale" from Haydn Abschiedssymphonie (Farewell Symphony), where all the players sneak out on the baffled conductor:

Childrens' ballet scenes are mixed in with the main program to spruce up the traditional program; and note also the neat kimono:

The bonus extras on this disc are as meritorious as the main program. Here are three shots from a documentary about Linz and its region. The last shot is a substantial segment of a work by Bruno Hartl for percussion called Oropaxis being performed by players from the Wiener Phil next to a working blast furnace and rolling mill:

There are two distinct ballet extras with Strauss music played by the orchestra. All of these are from one of the extras; I could not bear to delete anything:

 

This is a great title to show visitors who are not too familiar with classical music or ballet. They will usually be amazed and then maybe willing to watch Swan Lake or something. But PQ alone doesn't earn an A+ for an HDVD of a symphony orchestra concert. To earn an A+, the title must have top quality video content and sound quality as well. And in these departments, there is room for criticism of this recording.

Let's consider video content first: this recording suffers from a mild case of DVDitis. This disease affects HDVDs when the show was shot to be published as a DVD as well as in high-definition. The low resolution of DVD requires the TV director to rely primarily on close-up shots where the lack of resolution will not be noticed by the customer. Started differently, if you have to shoot for DVD, you can't use many shots of large sections of the orchestra or the whole orchestra. So the typical DVD consists of a great many shots of the conductor cut quickly to close-up shots of one or two players in a frantic effort (think movie cartoon) to keep the show interesting.

If the TV director is required to present the show in high-definition video with the same content required for the DVD, the result will be an inferior and unsatisfactory HDVD. If the director has enough shots on tape, maybe he can produce two different shows---one for DVD and one for HDVD. Or maybe he will try to shoot something in the middle that will make for a better HDVD without causing too many problems for the DVD. I think maybe this is what happened to Large on this project.

This 2009 New Year's Concert in HDVD form has better picture content than many of the other HDVDs we have reviewed of symphony orchestra concerts. Large does include a decent number of shots of the whole orchestra, a fair number of shots large sections, and other long-range shots.  Mysteriously,  many shots of the whole orchestra are ruined by chandeliers in the middle of the sight line. Alas, the best shots don't last long---as soon as you start to enjoy them, they disappear.

Then you see usually see the conductor yet another time before there's another cut to a soloist or a small section like 2 flutes or 3 trombones. Barenboim is more interesting than most conductors, but he appears too often in this recording. And there are also too many shots of Barenboim over the backs of players.

The SQ on this disc is quite good compared to most CDs and DVDs. But we have learned from NHK that a symphony recorded with the 96kHz/24 bit sampling rate can sound even better than what is presented on this disc. If the Wiener Philharmoniker considers themselves to be world-class symphony, they should insist that their performances be recorded with world-class technology.

To sum up, maybe no recording of waltzes and polkas could deserve an A+ grade in HDVD form. But if anybody could produce an A+ quality record of this kind of music, why wouldn't that be the Wiener Philharmoniker, Barenboim, and Large? I think the music performed on this title and the excellent bonus features included on the disc could justify an A+ grade. But for DVDitis in the video content and lack of 96kHz/24 bit sound, I reduce the grade to "A-."

Finally, I should say that we now have New Year's concerts from the Wiener Philharmoniker for 2010, 2011, and 2012. Subject title (2009) is the last such program photographed by Large, and the 2009 disc is far better than the any of these successors.