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Invidious In Vienna
My musical excursion though Vienna.
Article By Ray Chowkwanyun


  Invidious (comparative more invidioussuperlative most invidious)

1.    (of a distinctionoffensively or unfairly discriminating
The critic made invidious distinctions based only on his own whim.

From the latin invidia ("envy, ill will"), one of the seven deadly sins.


Ceiling detail Musikverein, ViennaY'know what's great about the Musikverein in Vienna (Austria)? The audience. They know the score. People were clutching their chins, others were leaning forward in their seats when they weren't standing up (in the back row) craning for a better view, still others were rocking gently to the music with their eyes closed. When an audience listens attentively and with knowledge and love of the music it actively participates in the music making with the orchestra to the mutual benefit of both.

I mean in addition to the Musikverein being arguably the best sounding hall in the world. Put that together with the Vienna Philharmonic being arguably the best orchestra in the world and every music lover should make the pilgrimage to the Musikverein. C'mon people, it costs but a fraction of what you spent on your system. You owe it to yourself to experience the ultimate in music at least once in your life.

(The main auditorium of the Musikverein is the Grosser Saal. Sharing the same floor is the smaller Brahms Saal which is used for chamber concerts. To avoid the clumsy Grosser Saal of the Musikverein, the single word Musikverein is commonly used or it is also called the Golden Hall.)


Invidious Comparison, the First
Philharmoniker Versus Symphoniker
The Vienna Symphony Orchestra is the equal of any of the world's great orchestras – except for their neighbor, the Vienna Philharmonic (Der Philharmoniker). The difference is in the dynamics. The Philharmonikers play louder. It is that simple. The woodwinds especially are gloriously; imperiously loud giving an excitement to Der Phil's playing that is unmatched. And then there is the intensity of the playing which is maintained throughout the performance. Old adage: with regard to bacon and eggs, the chicken has an interest, but the pig is committed. How do you know a violinist is committed? When he bends over so far during a fortissimo that you're afraid he's going to hit his head on the music stand. This goes beyond mere duty to the orchestra. It is a personal commitment to give your all to make the performance come off. Where the Symphonikers dig in, the Philharmonkers drill down.

During highly emotional passages, Der Phil becomes a thunderous musical machine moving forward with irresistible force. I realize it is not all about volume otherwise we would all own horns. Oh wait, our fearless leader when last heard of had horns. Obviously tonal qualities are of the first order. What you hear with Der Phil in the Musikverein is incredible detail that you never heard before. But it is not a cold analytical sound. The Musikverein has a wonderful warm glow and this incredibly rich sonorous sound. Contributing to this is the cohesion in the strings. The Philharmoniker violin section sounds like a single giant instrument.

The Vienna Symphony is one of the world's great orchestras. They put the great in Schubert's great C Major Symphony. You should see them if you get the chance, but the Vienna Philharmonic is sui generis. It is the Patek Philippe of orchestras. Or if you prefer an automotive metaphor, the musical Ariel Atom.

Wikipedia says that a 2008 poll of music critics placed Der Phil behind the Concertgebouw and the Berlin Philharmonic. Some years ago, I heard the Berliners perform a Brahms Zyklus in the Musikverein under Abbado and I thought them shockingly inferior to Der Phil. It was not even close. The timpanist in particular fell short. At the climax of a symphony you need the tympani to provide the exclamation point that drives home the musical point, but the Berliner's timpany went off like a wet squibb. The Los Angeles Philharmonic under Dohnányi in Disney Hall had more impact than the Berliners in the Brahms Zyklus. It might be a case of on any given night an orchestra can be off, but I listened over a complete symphonic cycle. (I have never heard the Concertgebouw live so I cannot give an opinion on them.)

To get the full effect, Der Phil needs to be heard in the Musikverein playing a symphony by Beethoven, Brahms, or Bruckner. A full bodied piece like The Planets or Symphonie Fastastique is good too. Another orchestra in the Musikverein will only hint at what is possible. Likewise, Der Phil in a hall that is merely above average will only hint at its full capabilities. Did the introduction of women in 1997 change Der Phil's sound? No. The sound is as excellent as it ever was. In both of the concerts I heard, the concertmaster was a woman, Albena Danailova. Apropos of nothing she is Bulgarian.

I heard each orchestra twice. I heard each orchestra in both in the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus. By sheer luck, in the Kozerthaus performances the Symphonikers played the Dvořák Cello Concerto while the Philharmonikers played the Brahms Double both full-bodied pieces so a similarity in the color palette. The Symphonikers performed on a Saturday evening while the Philharmonikers gave their concert the next morning (Sunday) so it was almost like back to back performances. I was seated in about the same place in the hall for both performances giving about as close to a controlled comparison as you're going to get.


Tuesday 4th of June, 2013 in the Musikverein
Mozart Violin Concerto KV 216
Haydn Symphony in G Minor "La Poule"
Schubert No. 8 in C Major
Conductor and violinist Leonidas Kavakos
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Seat Parterre Links Reihe 1 Platz 11

(Parterre is the main floor. Links is left. Reihe is row. This is actually not the first row on the main floor there being three or four rows with roman numerals in front. Platz is seat. This seat was close to the center.)

Friday, 7th of June, 2013 in the Musikverein
Brahms Double Concerto
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
Violin: Volkhard Steude, one of Der Phil's concertmasters
Cello: Peter Somodari, soloist with Der Phil
Conductor: Tugan Sokhiev
Vienna Philharmonic

Seat upper right corner of the balcony. I could not even see the orchestra, but the sound was glorious nevertheless.

The above program of Brahms and Berlioz was repeated by Der Phil in the Konzerthaus on Sunday, 9th of June, 2013.

Saturday, 8th of June, 2013 in the Konzerthaus
Dvořák Cello Concerto
Zemlinsky Die Seejungfrau Symphonische Dichtung
Cello: Alisa Weilerstein
Conductor: Markus Poschner of the Bremen Philharmoniker substituted for an ailing James Conlon

Seat Parterre Rechts Reihe 11 Platz 4.


Invidious Comparison, The Second
Konzerthaus Versus Musikverein
Der Phil performing the same program within a couple of days in the Konzerthaus and the Musikverein gave a chance to compare these two halls. Even sitting in the top right hand corner of the Musikverein, I thought it far superior to sitting in the middle of row 11 of the Konzerthaus main floor. First it is louder. Second you hear details that are simply swallowed up in the Kozerthaus. The Konzerthaus is an above average hall, but not in the same league as the Musikverein. The Konzerthaus is on the level of Carnegie. Disney Hall falls somewhere in between the Konzerthaus and the Musikverein. Luzern's Konzertzentrum is on a par with the Musikverein, but with a leaner cooler sound.

And yet, and yet, a musician of the caliber of Pollini can fill the Konzerthaus to the rafters with his sound. It boggles the mind what he would sound like in a smaller, more intimate venue like the Brahms Saal of the Musikverein. At this point in his life, when you go to a Pollini concert you do not hear a performance so much as you witness a probing thrilling search for musical truth. The physical laying of hands on to the ivories is a sideshow to the intellectual and emotional quest. His playing is limpid as an alpine stream. He guides you through the most complex passages making them simple and straightforward. He improvises like a jazz musician. His transcendent technique allows him to follow the music wherever it wants to go.

At this point in his life, Pollini doesn't play, he channels the music. The phrase that comes irresistibly to mind is Tolkien's wonderful perceive the unimaginable hand and mind o fFëanor at work.


Pollini's program for Tuesday 11th of June, 2013 in the Konzerthaus:
Frédéric Chopin
Préludecis-moll op. 45 (1841)
Ballade Nr. 2 F-Dur op. 38 (1836-1839)
Ballade Nr. 3 As-Dur op. 47 (1840-1841)
Mazurka gis-moll op. 33/1 (1837-1838)
Mazurka D-Dur op. 33/2 (1837-1838)
Mazurka C-Dur op. 33/3 (1837-1838)
Mazurka h-moll op. 33/4 (1837-1838)
Scherzo Nr. 3 cis-moll op. 39 (1839)

Claude Debussy
DouzePréludes (1. Buch) (1909-1910)

Frédéric Chopin
Etude c-moll op. 10/12 «Revolutionsetude» (1830)
Ballade Nr. 1 g-moll op. 23 (1831-1835)
Prélude d-moll op. 28/24 (1836-1839)
Seat Parterre RechtsReihe 20 Platz 9 (Pretty far back in the hall.)


Invidious Comparison, The Third
Staatsoper Versus Musikverein
The other great hall in Vienna is the Staatsoper used mainly for opera and to a lesser extent for ballet. The members of Der Phil are the cream of the Staatsoper musicians so the orchestras sound similar. You can sit at the back of a box and still get the full emotional impact of Tosca. Tip: the sound in the highest balcony is actually better than down in the main floor and the price differential is an order of magnitude. On the other hand, being at the front of the stalls you can almost reach out and touch the singers so the visual impact is significantly greater. The sound in the Staatsoper is excellent. The difference in musical forms makes a comparison of the Staatsoper with the Musikverein difficult. The theatrical aspect of opera which is the Staatsoper staple gives it a whole dimension that is absent from the absolute music performed in the Musikverein. Nevertheless the sound of the two venues is similar: exceptional detail coupled with warmth. You should experience both.

Performances in the Staatsoper, Vienna:
Wednesday, 5th of June, 2013
Rossini La Cenerentola
Don Ramiro: Dmitri Korchak
Dandini: Vito Priante
Don Magnifico: Alessandro Corbelli
Angelina: Rachel Frenkel
Alidoro: Michelle Pertusi
Conductor: Jesús López-Cobos
Seat Parkett Links Reihe: 4 Platz: 4 (Main floor off to the side.)


Thursday, 6th of June, 2013
Puccini Tosca
Tosca: Martina Serafin
Cavaradossi: Roberto Alagna
Scarpia: Albert Dohmen
Conductor: Dan Ettinger
Seat Loge: 11 Reihe: 3 Platz: 7 (Back of a box close to center)


Monday, 10th of June, 2013
Rossini IlBarbiere di Siviglia
Alvaviva: Javier Camarena
Bartolo: Alfred Sramek
Rosina: Margarita Gritskova
Basilio: SofinColiban
Figaro: NikolayBorchev
Conductor: Michael Guettler
Seat Middle Gallery Row 2 Seat 28 (Somewhat off center in the highest balcony in the house.)


I paid for all tickets myself ordering online as you would. I received no discounts or consideration of any kind from any of the entities reviewed.


















































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