Friday, 12 August 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, August 2011)

Vienna Philharmonic / Valery Gergiev
Deutsche Grammophon 476 4211 / ****1/2

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual concert on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace is the summer counterpart to its New Year’s Day Concert. This year’s edition paid tribute to Franz Liszt’s bicentenary with a rip-roaring reading of his symphonic poem Les Préludes, uncannily aligned with last year’s programming of the Second Piano Concerto. The other tribute was to victims of the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, where gorgeous strings made Sibelius’s Scene with Cranes from Kuolema (Death) all the more poignant.

Not everything was this serious. There is a special place for Fritz Kreisler’s Concerto in one movement, a high-cholesterol rearrangement with lots of whipped cream added, of the first movement from Paganini’s First Violin Concerto. It’s terribly vulgar but German violinist Benjamin Schmid glides through its thick morasses of saccharine sweetness with great aplomb. Consistent with the theme of Virtuosic Pictures, Russian maestro Valery Gergiev helms a suitably opulent version of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures At An Exhibition, with brass a-blazing in the Great Gate Of Kiev. Concluding with a Johann Strauss polka as encore, the Viennese lap it up. And why not?

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