Sommernachtskonzert 2021 / Summer Night Concert 2021

Wiener Philharmoniker / Daniel Harding / Igor Levit

(Digital Download - Sony Classical #G010004605146K)

Review by James Manheim

Credit to Vienna Philharmonic's house label, which recorded the orchestra's annual Sommernachtskonzert (Summer Night Concert) at Schönnbrun Castle on June 18, 2021, mastered it (not incidental in a punishing sound environment), and had it on the market by early August. The Sommernachtskonzert and its New Year's Day cousin are nothing if not traditional, and their conductors tend to make repeat appearances. Once in a while, however, there is the fear that audiences may say, "Been there, done that," and thus an attempt to shake things up, at least moderately. That's what happened in 2021, with new conductor Daniel Harding, very little Viennese music apart from Beethoven's Für Elise and the standard Wiener Blut finale of Johann Strauss II, a major star appearance from pianist Igor Levit, and a relative novelty in the form of Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Even granted that Bernstein is pretty much standard repertory by now, even in Central Europe, listeners may feel that the venerable Philharmonic is a bit ill at ease snapping its fingers, and that the work doesn't quite fit its surroundings. Nevertheless, many parts of this non-Viennese Vienna Summer Night Concert are quite engagingly executed. Levit offers a brilliantly virtuosic Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, and the "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" movement from Holst's The Planets, Op. 32, is a festive piece that fits the program in an unexpected way. Harding fills the program with late Romantic/early 20th century pieces that embody a summer atmosphere in one way or another, like Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and if the music is unexpected, it is also generally sharp. Dollars (or euros) to donuts, the 2022 concert will be more conventional, but change is good.