Vienna Philharmonic's Summer Night Concert

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Just as New Yorkers flock to outdoor concerts in the city's parks each summer, the Viennese have a growing tradition of their own: a free open-air performance at the Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence known for its Baroque gardens. In June, the Vienna Philharmonic presented its eighth annual al fresco concert there, featuring an unusual, celestial-themed program. It's just out on CD and is this week’s Full Rotation.

The "Summer Night Concert" is somewhat of a hybrid. On one hand, it features the Vienna Philharmonic, the 168-year-old ensemble that connotes prestige and a staunchly traditional aesthetic (its hiring practices towards women musicians remain a point of contention). Yet this is also an event that draws an estimated 100,000 people, including, we're told, many newcomers who normally don't venture into Vienna's hallowed Musikverein.

Then there’s the program. This concert was the first time that the Vienna Philharmonic had played the music of John Williams, the most recognizable film composer of the modern era. Three selections from Star Wars are included, and while they may not rival the classic London Symphony Orchestra accounts, conductor Franz Welser-Möst emphasizes the music’s bold strokes and the Vienna brass give it their all.

Other selections offer a more varied take on the cosmic theme. There are several nods to the Viennese waltz tradition including Music of the Spheres, a moody, atmospheric piece by Josef Strauss (the second son of Johann Strauss); and Joseph Lanner's Evening Stars, a bubbly waltz receiving its first Vienna Phil recording. The orchestra applies a delicate touch to the magical Moonrise chorus from Otto Nicolai's opera, The Merry Wives of Windsor but is suitably brash and menacing in Mars from Gustav Holst's The Planets. The one "terrestrial" selection here is Franz Liszt's Second Piano Concerto, which while breaking theme, is given a bravura performance by the Russian soloist Yefim Bronfman.

Summer Night Concert 2010
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Available at Arkivmusic.com