2011 New Year's Concert

2011 New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic (Wiener Philharmoniker) conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Recorded January 1, 2011 at the Goldener Saal des Weiner Musikvereins. Here's the program:

1. Johann Strauss II "Reitermarsch" ("Calvalry March")

2. Johann Strauss II "Donauweibchen" (Waltz) ("Danube Maidens")

3. Johann Strauss II "Amazonen-Polka" ("Amazon's Polka")

4. Johann Strauss II "Debut-Quadrille" ("Debut Quadrille")

5. Joseph Lanner "Die Schönbrunner" (Waltz) ("The Inhabitants of Schönbrunn")

6. Johann Strauss II "Muthig voran!" (Polka) (Forward with valour!")

7. Johann Strauss II "Csárdás"  from Ritter Pásmán ("Csárdás" folk dance from the opera Ritter Pásmán)

8. Johann Strauss II "Abschieds-Rufe" (Waltz) ("Farewell Waltz")

9. Johann Strauss I "Furioso-Galopp nach Liszt's Motiven" ("Furious Galop on Motifs by Liszt")

10. Franz Liszt "Zwei Episodes aus Lenau's Faust" (" Two Episodes from Lenau's Faust")

11. Franz Liszt "Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (Mephisto-Walzer Nr. 1") ("The Dance in the Village Inn" (First Mephisto Waltz)")

12. Josef Strauss "Aus der Ferne" (Polka) (" From far away")

13. Johann Strauss II  "Spanischer Marsch" ("Spanish March")

14. Joseph Hellmesberger II "Zigeunertanz" from Die Perle von Iberien ("Gipsy Dance"  from the ballet The Pearl of Iberia)

15. Johann Strauss I "Cachucha-Galopp" (Cachucha Galop)

16. Josef Strauss "Mein Lebenslauf ist Lieb' und Lust" (Waltz) ("My Life is Love and Joy")

17. Eduard Strauss "Ohne Aufenthalt" (Polka) ("Non-stop Polka")

18. Johann Strauss II "An der schönen, blauen Donau" ("Blue Danue Waltz")

19. Johann Strauss I "Radetzky Marsch" (Radetzky March")

This title also has these bonus features: 2 ballet performances of about 5 minutes each and a 24-minute documentary called The Vienna Philharmonic on Tour. All the video is in HD. The surround sound was apparently recorded using 48kHz/24 bit sampling; 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio output is available for all the segments except the documentary, which is in stereo. Directed for TV by Brian Large. Grade: C+

Brian Large also was TV director for the 2009 New Year's Concert disc by the Weiner Philharmoniker. (This was also published by Decca.)  Although I liked both the musical program and the bonus features on the 2009 show, I graded it down to B+ because it was not recorded with 96kHz/24 bit sampling technology and the video content suffers from "DVDitis." To learn more about 96kHz/24 bit sampling technology and DVDitis, please refer to 2009 New Year's Concert mini-review.

Unfortunately, subject 2011 New Year's Concert title is considerably weaker that the 2009 show. The music selected for 2011 doesn't seem as interesting as it should be. In 2009, a lot of beautiful variety video (dancing, nature scenes, etc.) was used during the main show to prevent monotony; there's only a bit of this in 2011. The bonus segments in 2009 were valuable and interesting in their own right. The bonus dance segments in 2011 are very short. The bonus documentary has mildly interesting shots of the orchestra and guest conductors Thielemann, Gergiev, and Buchbinder, but the stereo sound is execrably bad, bad, bad. So the 2009 bonuses amount to pointless filler thrown by the marketing department to puff the product.

Now back to the sound  and the video content issue in the main show. The 2011 sound is pretty good, but I had trouble with hearing the harps sometimes even when they were on camera. With state-of-the art sampling and carefull handling down the line, I would expect better sound of a caliber that the Weiner Philharmoniker deserve.

The DVDitis problem seems worse in 2011 than before with way too many shots of Welser-Möst, too many extreme close-ups, and too many instrument-only shots (especially that piccolo!). For a field-of-focus flub, see 36:12 where there's a nice picture of a horn player, but dominating the image is an out-of-focus bassoon snout sticking up in the way. And, oh dear: see 3:49 for that monster chandelier blocking out half the band.

Of course, in the Golden Hall on this occasion, you will want plenty of shots of the flowers, the elite audience, and building itself. I have no complaint about any of that even if it distracts from the orchestra so often by showing their backs. But as you can see at 3:01, 4:41, 16:28, and 25:28, Large has all the cameras needed to provide the mid-range and longer-range shots that best take advantage of high-definition video. Alas,  these shots don't look good on DVD, so they are too few and too fleeting.

Having heaped so much criticism (constructive I hope) on this title, I want conclude with one point of sincere praise. The basic picture quality (resolution, color balance, and absence of picture and motion artifacts) in this show is about as good as it gets. I still have no doubt that Large could turn out an A+ title based on this New Year's event. But for that to happen, the orchestra will make the necessary investment in sound quality, really draw on the resources of the Ballet for interesting bonus video, and allow Large to tailor his video recording plan to the strengths of high-definition television.

In summary then, for all the deficiencies noted, I was inclined to give this title the grade of "C." But because of the excellent raw PQ, I bump the grade up to "C+."