“Sommernachtskonzert 2014” = BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Ov.; Benvenuto Cellini Ov.; LISZT: Mazeppa; R. STRAUSS: Burleske; Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; J. STRAUSS II: Furioso-Polka – Lang Lang, piano/Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Christoph Eschenbach – Sony

Sommernachtskonzert 2014 = BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9; Benvenuto Cellini Overture; LISZT: Mazeppa; R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D Minor; Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28; J. STRAUSS II: Furioso-Polka, Op. 260 – Lang Lang, piano/Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Christoph Eschenbach – Sony 88843070972, 76:18 (6/13/14) ****:

The Vienna Philharmonic Concert of 29 May 2014 at the Schloss Schoenbrunn comes to us in glowing sounds, courtesy of Recording Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and his associates.  Conductor Christoph Eschenbach assembles a virtuoso program on every level, self-consciously rivaling the bravura we readily associate with the late Herbert von Karajan. The combination of orchestral detail and muscular verve permeates the entire evening, opening with a silken rendition of the Berlioz Roman Carnival. The ode to artistic ingenuity, the 1838 Benvenuto Cellini Overture, adds even more dash and alert response to the VPO mix, the orchestra having been well warmed up after the Strauss Burleske. The brio and energetic hustle of the Berlioz winds, brass, battery, and strings proves thoroughly infectious.

The happy excellence of the VPO flute and trumpet, besides the tympani and brass choirs, makes the Liszt 1854 symphonic poem Mazeppa a natural spellbinder, glorious in its evocation of the Ukrainian leader (1645-1709) and his exploits by way of Victor Hugo and Lord Byron. The final section, marziale, nobile, unequivocally confirms the hard-won triumph after the bitter horse ride, which Eschenbach makes sound like a precursor to Wagner’s Valkyries. Immediately, we find ourselves in the throes of another tone-painter of equally athletic stature, the Richard Strauss of his whirlwind D Minor Burleske (1886; rev. 1890), a monster one-movement scherzo with a penchant for seductive waltz themes. Lang Lang applies his capacity for degrees of loud and soft to engage us in an often stentorian reading of this keyboard firecracker. We feel that Strauss consciously exploited conceits taken directly from Liszt and Wagner to create a brilliant showpiece for his own pyrotechnics, which pianist Hans von Bulow freely admitted his hands could not accommodate. Trumpet, flute, and tympani once more assert their own colors, and primary they remain, in consonance with Lang Lang’s own, persuasive firepower. The last pages provide ardent lyricism and lusty thunder, respectively.

Eschenbach extends the Vienna Philharmonic homage to Richard Strauss with his playfully acerbic 1895 Till Eulenspiegel, in every way “an Old Rogue’s Tale.” This especial rascal enjoys tormenting the middle class and clergy, as though his natural peasant’s sensibility were innately superior. From the opening, “Once upon a time” motif, through Till’s various, picaresque encounters and lethal end, we sail through an “adjusted” rondo of wit and acrobatic colors. Eschenbach’s directly literal but volatile style testifies to his many fruitful hours of baton and analysis hours under the tutelage of that other Strauss acolyte, George Szell.

Lastly, a true moment of Viennese lilt and inexhaustible charm, in the form of the Johann Strauss Polka, “Furioso,” a romp, frenetic and delightfully convulsive, with “kitchen-sink” effects in brass, cymbals, and snare drum, all on bravura overdrive.

—Gary Lemco

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