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Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
19 Waltzes

CD 1
1. An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314 [9:25]
2. Rosen aus dem Süden, Op. 388 [7:53]
3. Wiener Blut, Op. 354 [7:16]
4. Frühlingsstimmen, Op. 410 [5:51]
5. Künstlerleben, Op. 316 [8:03]
6. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325 [11:00]
7. Kaiser-Walzer, Op. 437 [10:18]
8. Morgenblätter, Op. 279 [8:25]
9. Accelerationen, Op. 234 [7:58]
CD 2
1. Lagunen-Walzer, Op. 411 (from Eine Nacht in Venedig)[7:53]
2. Schatz-Walzer, Op. 418 (from Der Zigeunerbaron) [7:10]
3. Du und Du, Op. 367 (from Die Fledermaus) [6:32]
4. Wein, Weib und Gesang, Op. 333 [5:59]
5. Donauweibchen, Op. 427 [7:46]
6. Wiener Frauen, Op. 423 [7:59]
7. Feuilleton, Op. 293 [8:22]
8. Flugschriften, Op. 300 [8:18]
9. Gedankenflug, Op. 215 [10:04]
10. Leitartikel, Op. 273 [8:45]
Wiener Johann Strauss-Orchester/Willi Boskovsky
rec. Baumgartner-Kasino, Wien, March 1982 (CD1 tr. 1-7), December 1980 (CD 1 tr 8, 9 and CD 2 tr. 1, 2), November 1984 (CD 2 tr. 3, 4), April 1984 (CD 2 tr. 7-10) and at Studio Rosenhügel, Wien, in December 1985 (CD 2 tr. 5, 6)
EMI CLASSICS 0946 3 81524 2 2 [76:14 + 78:53]



The Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra was founded in 1965 and its first conductor was Eduard Strauss, grand nephew of Johann Strauss II. On Eduard’s death in 1968, Willi Boskovsky took over and after his death Walter Goldschmid, Rudolf Bibl and Kurt Wöss have carried on the tradition. They have toured worldwide and given concerts in their hometown, not only with music by members of the Strauss family but other ‘light’ music by Austrian composers. It is a medium-sized orchestra in symphonic terms, with strings numbering 10, 5, 3, 3, 3 and winds 2, 2, 2, 2, 4, 2, 1, 1, 1 and adding harp and other extra instruments when needed. This was, I suppose, approximately the size of the original Strauss Orchestra after the death of Johann I in 1849, when Johann II merged his father’s and his own into one orchestra.

Willi Boskovsky (1909–1991), who was concert master of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1936 to 1979, became a legend when he took over the New Year’s Concerts at Musikverein in 1955 after the demise of Clemens Krauss. When from the mid-1960s the concert was televised, his warm smile and elegant fiddling in front of the orchestra made him almost a family member in millions of living rooms all over the world. For 25 years he went on until in 1979 he stepped down due to precarious health. Having practically grown up with Boskovsky’s readings with the Vienna Phil, first on the radio and later on TV, I know what these Strauss waltzes should sound like: the silken strings, the balanced brass, the delicate or sometimes naughty woodwind and the elegant lilt of the playing with those inimitable rubatos, never overdone as with some conductors, who want to create an image for themselves. These recordings, which were all made after his tenure as conductor of the New Year’s Concerts, are not quite what I expected.

It may be argued that this orchestra, having been playing this kind of music for 15 to 20 years when the recordings were made, most of the time under Boskovsky, must be regarded as the real experts in this field, whereas the Vienna Phil primarily play it once a year. I also believe that there are two different approaches but with Boskovsky as a common factor. The Vienna Phil is a symphony orchestra which happens to play Strauss music once in a while and do so as concert music, the Strauss Orchestra try to recreate as truly as possible what the music sounded like in Strauss’ time – and his field was primarily the ballroom. For listening purposes the conductor can be flexible, make a ritardando here, a heavy accent there, cajole the phrases for maximal effect, find what we like to call Viennese charm; for dancing purposes – at least when the dancers are not professionals – the tempo has to be fairly strict and as few agogic surprises as possible. Of course these recordings were not made primarily for dancing but I believe there was some kind of striving to recreate an authentic sound – a period performance, comparable to the period performance practice of baroque music. So without pressing the issue too much I can detect lighter textures – it’s an orchestra practically half the size of the Vienna Phil – less heavy accents and a more straightforward feeling. Sometimes it can be too matter-of-fact, Rosen aus dem Süden is close to prosaic, and there are again and again places where the music feels hard driven, even strident. Moreover the strings are not always as soft and classy as the VPO’s.

Does all this sound negative? If that’s the case it is certainly not my intention. In many ways I find this approach refreshing and there is no lack of finesse but it is, so to speak, underplayed. In the introductions, which often are the kernels, compositionally speaking at least, there is both elegance and sophistication – just try the opening of Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, possibly the most magic music Strauss ever wrote – and the magic is there, unadulterated. The coda of Kaiser-Walzer is another magic moment and I could mention many more. What is most remarkable – and that becomes especially obvious when listening to these nineteen waltzes in a row – is how inventive and many-faceted Strauss’ music is, even within the formula-ridden frame of a Vienna waltz: an introduction, often slow and not in ¾-time, then a sequence of, normally, five waltzes and then a coda with some relation to the introduction. Nineteen waltzes in a row is definitely not the best way of appreciating this music and the original issues, five LPs, had a mix of waltzes and polkas. Anyone with a special fancy for just waltzes will however have his fill here. All the well-known pieces are here, mostly on CD1; only Wein, Weib und Gesang is on CD2, but there we also get some lesser known pieces which are just as inspired and entertaining, Wiener Frauen, for example, where the timpani repeatedly roll like a distant thunderstorm in the background and Flugschriften, which is brimful with fresh and attractive melodies and high spirits. It is interesting to note that several pieces have titles alluding to the printed word: besides Flugschriften (Pamphlets), we have ‘Morning Papers’, ‘Literary Essay’ and ‘The Leading Article’. The first three waltzes on CD2 should also be well-known to most readers, since they are drawn from Strauss’ most loved operettas: Eine Nacht in Venedig, Der Zigeunerbaron and Die Fledermaus.

The most unusual composition here – and also the earliest – is Gedankenflug (Flight of Fancy), which stems from a period when Johann, inspired by his brother Josef, started to write concert waltzes, more symphonically designed and really a kind of symphonic poem. The publisher saw no future – read: money – in this and persuaded the brothers to return to pure dance music.

There can be no complaint concerning the sound and the liner notes by Peter Avis give a good background to the Strauss dynasty and the Vienna waltz as a phenomenon.

Anyone who likes the idea of performing this music à la ballroom instead of concert hall will find much to admire here.

Göran Forsling

 

 


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