The annual concert at Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna, is something of an event: the Veinna Philharmonic, one of the World's greatest orchestras, here with a very special guest soloist, Igor Levit. The conductor is Daniel Harding; the 2021 programme centres on longing - a key concept given the impact of coronavirus on the planet.
This was Daniel Harding's first Summer Night's concert, although he has been conducting the Vienna Philharmonic since 2004. Here's a promo video:
It is impressive how Harding does manage to create a propper Italianate atmosphere for Verdi's brilliant, beautiful Overture to Les vêpres siciliennes (Sicilian Vespers); that's the opener, and at the close, as an encore, is - what else? - a Veinnese waltz, a beautiful performance of Johann Strauss II's Wiener Blut:
In the still of the picture for the promo video is Harding with pianist Igor Levit. Levit is one of music's great thinkers, and the dark mystery he finds in Variation XVII of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini is utterly remarkable, a snippet of late Rachmaninov before the flowering of the "big tune" in the famous Variaion XVIII. Unsurprisingly, the YouTube video kicks off at the famous bit, but trust me you need to ehar what happens before it - how the melody enters like a shaft of sunlight, creating dappled shadows of longing:
West Side Story's combination of white-hot brashness and tender love story seems perfect; again, this is longing writ large, this time across a seemingly uncrossable divide, after Shakepeare. The VPO is certainly smooth - sometimes perhaps a touch too much so:
Hard to imagine a greater contrast than Elgar's Salut d'amour that follows though! It does work, because it acts as a lead-in to a sultry Debussy Prélude d'après-midi d'in faune and thence to that superb waltz encore.
A lovely disc, worth its weight in gold for that superb Levit Rachmaninov.