This past May the annual Summer Night Concert presented by the Vienna Philharmonic was held fir the first time directly in front of Vienna’s imperial Schönbrunn Palace. Christoph Eschenbach conducted, and the featured soloist was soprano Renée Fleming. Fleming’s selections included opera arias by Antonín Dvořák and art songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. With the exception of the “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Opus 114 opera Rusalka, there were unfamiliar selections. However, Eschenbach saw to the audience’s comfort zone with excerpts from the scores for two ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) and “The Firebird” (Igor Stravinsky). The prelude to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel was complemented by Dvořák’s concert overture “Carnival;” and the “Dance of the Comedians” from Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride was thrown in as an encore; and popular tastes were satisfied with “Hedwig’s Theme” from the music that John Williams composed for the Harry Potter films.
To be fair, this was a festive evening, rather than a musical one. However, by the end of this past June, Sony Classics was ready to release it in CD form. The concert was also captured on video and broadcast on PBS last August 18. Nevertheless, even if the music itself was not the highest priority, many will feel that the encounters with less-performed selections by Dvořák and Rachmaninoff will be “worth the price of admission.” I am inclined to agree, although the Williams selection was so far removed from the context of the rest of the program that it bordered on cringe-inducing!