What does a conductor actually add to a performance? The annual ritual of the Vienna Philharmonic's new year concert can make you wonder. When Daniel Barenboim's polkas this year were barely distinguishable from Niki Harnoncourt's a few years back, it's clear that here the band knows best.
The point was unsubtly underlined in the final item on the programme, Haydn's Abschieds-Symphonie, where the musicians leave the stage one by one in the final movement until the maestro has only a pair of violinists left to conduct. There was a strong whiff of ham about Barenboim's own contribution, but is there any other way to play it?
Only the encores sounded properly Barenboim-esque: the Radestzky March slowed from the usual breathless dash to a proper marching pace, and the Blue Danube waltz marked by impossible tempo changes that prove whatever else Daniel Barenboim's good for, he's no dancer.
Haydn's Abschieds-Symphonie (Farewell Symphony):
An der schönen blauen Donau (Blue Danube waltz):