Sommernachts Konzert 2015

 

Sommernachtskonzert 2015 (2015 Summer Night Concert). On May 14, 2015 Zubin Mehta conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker in the annual Summer Night Concert at the Baroque Park of the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna. Features pianist Rudolf Buchbinder. Sound produced by Raimund Langner; directed for TV by Henning Kasten. Released 2015, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

Here is the program:

  1. Richard Strauss, Fanfare für Wiener Philharmoniker
  2. Carl Nielsen, Maskarade: Overture
  3. Edvard Grieg, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor (Buchbinder)
  4. Alfred Grünfeld, Soirée de Vienne (Buchbinder encore)
  5. Christian Sindling, Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring) 
  6. Edvard Grieg, Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
  7. Jean Sibelius, Finlandia

Encores: 

  1. Hans Christian Lumbye, Kopenhagener Eisenbahn-Dampf-Galopp
  2. Johann Strauss II, Wiener Blut - Walzer

The Vienna Schönbrunn (Pretty Fountain) is my favorite palace. It's in the city with easy public transportation, has a huge park with many attractions, and is home to an excellent and informative palace tour. Most of the great city orchestras have an outdoor summer concert for large crowds of the locals, and this summer-night event with the Vienna Phil at Schönbrunn is probably the most impressive of them all. Here's a shot of the central formal garden area of the park on a normal day:

The picture above was made from the roof of the back of the main palace building. The cleared area in the forest is at least 100 meters (110 yards) wide. It runs about 400 meters (quarter mile) downhill to Neptune's Fountain. From there a grassy field runs uphill another 400 meters to the Gloriette building at the horizon line. The Gloriette is about a half mile away from the palace. The cleared park area you see here is about 100+ x 800 meters for a total of some 20 acres.

Next below is a shot of the same area last in the afternoon of the Sommernachtskonzert. People are waiting for the music all the way from the palace to the Gloriette! Park officials assert that the crowd has in recent years reached 100,000:

The investment in facilities and gear to pull this off is huge with a giant portable band shell (including a piano elevator), elaborate crowd control, live video installations, vast lighting, loudspeaker, and recording facilities, sky-cams (and maybe drones), plus fireworks. Here's the band shell:

A few lucky (wealthy) people have chairs;

But most stand. In the back of the park, between Neptune's Fountain and the Gloriette, visitors sit on the grass:

There's no place for TV cameras to get an whole-orchestra shot:

The show opens with a fanfare Richard Strauss wrote for the orchestra, here being performed by double brass and tympani. This is the best image of the orchestra on the disc:

Here's a typical part-orchestra shot made from inside the band shell:

Buchbinder plays a concerto and a solo encore. Cameras on the stage can get shots like this:

Another part-orchestra shot made, I think, with a telephoto lens:

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One way to pep up the miserable video of the orchestra is to add local-color shots like this view of the palace interior:

And local monuments like the Parliament and sculpture of Pallas Athene:

And, of course, as in any DVD, the TV director makes shots of soloists and small groups. Here is Rainer Küchl, concertmaster, and Albena Danailovo, assistant concertmaster:

The Wiener Philhamoniker owns its instruments. Here we see details of their piston-valve horns (two valves open and one shut I guess):

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As the night gets darker, the lights get more colorful:

A closer view of Neptune and his consorts:

I imagine this moat, so neat for fireworks, is built around the original beautiful fountain:

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After the main concert, there has to be a humorous encore. What are the two percussionists doing with the wire brushes? They are making the sounds of an old-fashion, wood-burning steam locomotive:

And Mehta, now engineer of the train, blows the warning horn:

After the train ride, people dance to the Wiener Blut Waltz before returning to their homes in this beautiful city:

The Sommernachtskonzert must be a year-round operation for the City of Vienna and even the national government, which, I bet, each May commandeers all the nice portable toilets in Austria. 78 technical people headed by Henning Kasten get credit in the keepcase booklet for making the sound and video recordings.

But how good is the record for viewing in your home theater? Jeremy Nicholas, writing in the September 2015 Gramophone (page 51) raves about the excellent sound quality of the CD version of this title. I'll agree the sound here is maybe the best I've heard of all the outdoor symphony and opera performances I've reported on this website. The recording of Buchbinder's piano playing is especially nice considering the venue. Above all, I prize the wonderfully played and recorded Peer Gynt Suite with ravishing pizzicato from all the strings. The gnomes of miking and mixing got it right this time!

Alas, the video of the orchestra is even worse than the DVDitis I complain of so much in these reviews. The construction of the band shell, which has to be narrow to fit into the formal garden, allows no decent shots of the whole or large parts of the orchestra. The only way I see to improve on this would be to build a bridge high across the front of the band shell from which remotely controlled cameras could be lowered to look down on the orchestra for large-scale video recording. This could probably be done without messing up sight lines for the live audience.

Now for a grade.  The sound was recorded with 48 kHz sound sampling, so we start with a grade of "A." The pitiful video record of the orchestra knocks us down to a "D+."  But otherwise, this is a nice title with pleasant music well-recorded at a spectacular event in a famous venue. So I'll adjust up to a "B."  The best of the light-weight "holiday" concerts remains the 2009 New Years Concert with the Vienna Phil at the Golden Hall conducted by Daniel Barenboim. That's the essential pops disc for showing to friends and relatives. Subject Sommernachtskonzert 2015 might be a good runner-up for you.