2012 New Year's Concert

2012 New Year's Concert by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) conducted by Mariss Jansons. Recorded January 1, 2012 at the Goldener Saal des Weiner Musikvereins. Here's the program:

1. Johann Strauss II and (brother) Joseph Strauss "Vaterländischer Marsch" ("Fatherland or Patriotic March")

2. Johann Strauss II "Rathausball-Tänzes" (Waltz) ("City Hall Ball Dances")

3. Johann Strauss II "Entweder - oder!" (Fast Polka) ("Either - Or!")

4. Johann Strauss II "Tritsch-Tratsch" (Fast Polka) ("Chit-Chat")

5. Carl Michael Ziehrer "Wiener Bürger" (Waltz) ("Viennese Folk")

6. Johann Strauss II "Albion Polka"

7. Johann Strauss  "Jokey" (Fast Polka) ("Jockey Polka")

Intermission

8. Joseph Hellmesberger, II  "Danse Diabolique" ("Diabolic or Devil's Dance")

9. Josef Strauss  "Künstler-Gruss" (Polka française) ("Artists' Greeting")

10. Johann Strauss II "Freuet euch des Lebens" (Waltz) ("Enjoy Life)"

11. Johann Strauss, I "Sperl-Galopp" ("Sperl Galopp")

12. Hans Christian Lumbye "Copenhagen Eisenbahn-Dampf Gallop" ("Copenhagen Steam Railway Gallop")

13. Joseph Strauss "Feuerfest" (Polka française) ("Fireproof")

14. Eduard Strauss "Carmen-Quadrille"

15. Peter I. Tchaikovsky "Panorama aus Dornröschen" ("Panorama from Sleeping Beauty")

16. Peter I. Tchaikovsky "Waltzer aus Dornröschen" ("Waltz from  Sleeping Beauty")

17. Johann Strauss II and Joseph Strauss "Pizzicato Polka"

18. Johann Strauss II "Persischer Marsch" ("Persian March")

19. Joseph Strauss "Brennende Liebe" (Polka) ("Burning Love")

20. Joseph Strauss "Delirien" (Waltz) ("Delirium")

21. Johann Strauss II "Unter Donner und Blitz" (Fast Polka) ("Thunder and Lightening")

22. Johann Strauss II "Tik-Tak" (Fast Polka) ("Tic-tak")

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

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

See additional information below kindly provided by wonk Zoltan Glied. (Thank you, Zoltan!)

This title also has three bonus ballet features averaging about 7 minutes each. There is a fourth extra, Musik in der Luft, which has SD video and is a very nice DVD. But to put it on an HDVD disc just amounts to something close to consumer fraud. (I know, the players of the Weiner Phil are experts on music---and not on television.)

All the video (except for Musik in der Luft, which doesn't count) is in HD. The surround sound was apparently recorded using 48kHz/24 bit sampling; the output is 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. Directed for TV by Karina Fibich. Grade: D+  

In 2009 we gave a "B+" to the Wiener NYC disc (shot by Brian Large)  and suggested improvements that might warrant an "A" grade. But things went down hill after that for this series. We found the technical aspects of the 2011 disc to be about the same as before, but we graded down  (to "C+") for less interesting music and worthless extras.  Now with this 2012 version, the music is as interesting as in 2009 and the sound is slightly better. But the extras are not impressive, and disaster strikes in the areas of both picture quality and video content.

First the good points. This is subjective, but I think the program is substantially freshened with addition of the Vienna Boys Choir for several numbers and the inclusion of the Carmen themes and the short numbers from the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty ballet. After all the bluster of polkas and marches, the softly trembling Panorama is bewitching---like breaking into air after a long swim underwater.  The orchestra sounds better than in 2009 and 2011. Maybe the acid test of this is the smart rendition of the Pizzicato-Polka. The only better pizzicato passages I know of in HDVD would be those recorded by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Bruckner Symphony No. 9 especially at 1:04:35 to 1:05:10 and  01:11:12 to 01:11:49. The Bruckner Symphony No. 9 was recorded with 96kHz/24 bit sound sampling, which probably explains its superior sound.

Now to the soft spots. PQ in this video is grimly inferior to what we are used to now generally in HDVD and what Brian Large provided before in this series. The light level was lowered over the audience and this may have contributed to the weak PQ. But the resolution is soft throughout including shots of the well-lit orchestra only. There are also many situations where bad focus seems to be the problem; see, for example, 24:50, a "conductor" shot showing most of the orchestra from the rear and nothing is in focus. Motion artifacts creep into many shots including the entrance of the conductor onto the stage and many of his  movements on the podium. There is a great deal of panning and zooming in this video. It seems that every panning shot degrades the take noticeably.

But the worst is something new. It seems that during 2011, a new wire was strung up close to the ceiling in the Golden Hall. As you face the stage, this wire runs from the left corner of the hall (behind the stage) diagonally to the right-rear corner of the hall near the front entrance and the upper rear balcony. Hanging on the wire is a device that runs by remote control along the wire while pointing a TV camera in any direction desired. This kind of "spy-cam" was first used, I think, to fly above the playing field in American football games. It also reminds one of those pilot-less aircraft now being used by the U.S. military and border guards. I wonder if it makes a droning sound as it passes overhead in the Golden Hall.

The spy-cam goes where no one dreamed of going before. There is no escape. Properly equipped, spy-cam could spew down rotten tomatoes on any performer or spectator in the house. At the moment, true, it is only making pictures. But unlike those used by the military, the Golden Hall spy-cam makes lousy pictures. In addition to a light-weight lens, the spy-cam suffers from vibration as it moves. And since Karina Fibich loves moving cameras, the spy-cam moves a lot!

Again and again it swoops back and forth over the orchestra and the audience. As spy-cam speeds over the orchestra on its way to the rear balcony, sometimes the camera will spin counter-clock wise always pointing at the conductor. When I see this I feel seasick; but if I take a pill, I can still watch the concert. For the absolutely most ridiculous shot ever offered in a fine-arts HDVD, see 1:48:53 to 1:49:10 where the spy-cam moves over the audience on its way to the eagle's nest behind the stage. The camera is pointed straight down at the center of the earth. You see the tops of the heads of most of the audience, and then of the orchestra players, in a DVD-like, slightly blurred picture. It's an astonishing display of technology going berserk.

In discussing the 2009 and 2011 New Year's Concerts, I criticize the video content as suffering from DVDitis. Well, the 2012 disc also has all the symptoms of this affliction. DVDitis generally comes from shooting too close-up (so the pictures will look OK on a DVD). But with spy-cam, we are seeing extremely long-range shots. If they look this bad in a HDVD, they must be unwatchable when used in a DVD.

To be fair, I state  there were some shots in this video that look really good in HDVD presentation. For examples, see 15:32, 15:47, 17:09, 1:06:08, and 1:06:30.

In my heart, I feel this HDVD should not have been released. That would mean an "F" grade. But who am I to give an "F" to a product made by the Wiener Philharmoniker? So out of a sense of general propriety and self-preservation, I nudge the grade up to "D." And because the Wiener Philharmoniker did make some progress with improving the sound, I'll add a "+."

I hope the Wiener Philharmoniker and Sony will keep the same sound crew they used in 2012 and support them an upgrade to 96kHz/24 bit sampling. They should let the same committee pick the music for next year. Surely they can beef up the bonus extras with some more serious contributions from the ballet. They should also invest in more "landscape and landmark" video used so well by Brian Large to spice up the show for the home theater audience, which is a lot bigger than what you can seat in the Golden Hall. Finally, I hope the band will get serious about making a great video designed from the start to be shown in HDVD form (as opposed to DVD). The TV director should follow the standards for symphony orchestra HD recordings posted on this website. And one or two shots from  the spy-cam (please, still shots) would probably be fine. I would like to have an A+ 2013 New Year's Concert to show in my home theater.