New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, 1st January 2010

I do not normally write about concerts, preferring stage performances — opera, ballet and theatre — but I found this so disappointing that I wanted to say a few words. Last year the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and the concert was wonderful. This year they played under the baton of Georges Prêtre, and in my opinion there was no comparison. I finally put my finger to the computer keyboard when I heard the barcarolle from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. A barcarolle is a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, which may explain the conductor’s decision to play it at such a slow tempo, but wouldn’t explain the egregiously large dynamic range. It was followed by Offenbach’s overture to Die Rheinnixen (the Rhine Fairies), which sounded like a barrel organ whose master was slowing it down and speeding it up to suit his fancy. Prêtre produced even more melodramatic tempo changes with Johann Strauss’s Morning Papers waltz, the next piece. I will not go on, except to say that the glorious Blue Danube waltz sounded very laboured. Georges Prêtre evidently enjoyed himself immensely, but I felt his attempts to insert so many tempo changes and too much drama into the concert misfired, and I hope he is not asked to conduct this again. I’m aware that he did so in 2008, and I have what I think is a wonderful recording of Carmen conducted by him, but unlike the BBC2 presenter Brian Kay, I found this concert very disappointing.

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