Continuing their then-new tradition of hiring only amazingly inappropriate conductors to lead their annual New Year's Concert, the Wiener Philharmoniker brought in Mariss Jansons for its 2006 concert. After the singularly arrhythmic Nikolaus Harnoncourt in 2003, the seriously narcissistic Riccardo Muti in 2004, and the consummately egotistic Lorin Maazel in 2005, Jansons brought several significant virtues to the podium on January 1, 2006. For one thing, Jansons brought a superlative stick technique unburdened by the need to prove he was cooler than the orchestra he was directing -- a virtue Maazel conspicuously lacks. For another thing, Jansons brought an uncanny ability to command uncoupled to the overwhelming impulse to dominate -- a virtue Muti wholly lacks. For one more thing, Jansons brought an irresistible flair for rhythm, a natural feel for the ebb and flow of rubato and the ineluctable movement of tempo through time -- a virtue, one among many, Harnoncourt entirely lacks.
What else did Jansons bring to the podium on New Year's Day 2006? Not much: aside from his comment that the program of pop pieces by Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss, and Eduard Strauss is "music that speaks through my mind and soul and body," it would be hard to tell Jansons possessed any particular affection much less an affinity for the music. Beyond from his rhythmic flair, his commanding presence, and his superlative stick technique, Jansons could be conducting any program of light classics. Even with the Wiener Philharmoniker -- an orchestra with the music of Strauss hardwired into its DNA -- Jansons' performances sing but they don't lilt, swing but they don't sway, dance but they don't waltz. So while Jansons is not as amazingly inappropriate as Harnoncourt, Muti, and Maazel, he was still amazingly inappropriate. For performances that are totally appropriate, performances that do lilt, sway, and above all waltz, try the New Year's Concerts with Willi Boskovsky on the podium. A born and bred Viennese, the concert master of the VPO for four decades, and the director of the New Year's Concert for a quarter of a century, Boskovsky incarnated the soul of the city in the spirit of its dance and the VPO soared under his hands. DG's sound is translucent and immediate, but also a bit hard around the edges.