|Founder: Len Mullenger|
THE STRAUSS ALBUM
Johann STRAUSS Senior (1804-1849)
Zampa-Galopp, Radetzky –Marsch, op. 228 (arr. Max Schönherr)
Johann STRAUSS Junior (1825-1899)
Perpetuum Mobile, op.257, Kaiser-Walzer, op. 437 (arr. M. Schönherr), Champagner-Polka, Die Fledermaus: Overture, In Krapfenwald’l Polka, op. 336, Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, op. 214, An der schönen, blauen Donau – Walzer, op. 314 (arr. M- Schönherr), Unter Donner und Blitz – Schnell-Polka, Errinerung an Covent Garden – Walzer, op. 329
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Nachtschatten – Polka-Mazur, op. 229, Jokey – Polka Schnell, op. 278 (arr. M. Schönherr)
Johann II and Josef STRAUSS
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916)
Innig und Sinnig – Polka française
Johann Strauss Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green
Recorded 7th and 9th November 2000 at the Angel Studios, London
Black Box BBM 1059 [67’ 48"]
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There seem to be some mixed objectives here. Maybe the objectives were clear in the conductor’s mind; if only the booklet notes had addressed certain issues rather than blandly (if quite usefully) recounting the story of the Strausses.
If you form an orchestra called the Johann Strauss Orchestra (the members are drawn from Warren-Green’s London Chamber Orchestra) it may be supposed that you intend to dedicate yourself in a particular way to these composers, reviving neglected works, banishing un-authentic traditions and the like.
To some extent this does seem to be the idea. Together with obvious favourites, this disc has the first orchestral recording of Johann Senior’s "Zampa-Galopp" and the first ever of Eduard’s "Innig und Sinnig". After Marco Polo’s pioneering work it would be too much to expect to find something unrecorded by Johann Junior, but "Errinerung an Covent Garden" will be new to many. This is based on popular English tunes of the day but I must say that, apart from the opening "Champagne Charlie" and the closing "Home, sweet home" (a Sicilian melody, actually) they’re all well before my time and I didn’t recognise any of them.
Also in the matter of performance there is at times the real spark of authenticity. The "Polka-Mazur" tempo of Josef’s "Nachtschatten" is exactly judged between chunkiness and lilt, the spirit of the dance ever present. You could have fooled me this was a Viennese performance (but of course, I’m not Viennese!). Similarly the polkas, with one exception I’ll come to later. The fast and slow polkas are well differentiated with splendid verve in well-known fast ones like "Tritsch-Trasch" and "Unter Donner und Blitz" and, on the other hand, plenty of elegance for "Innig und Sinnig" and a nice mix of rustic charm and cheekiness for "Im Krapfenwald’l".
There appear also to be certain attempts at correcting tradition. "Perpetuum Mobile" is not rushed off its feet but played at a dance-tempo which lets us hear all the various incidents (dare I confess I find the usual mad rush so much more exciting?); the march section in the introduction to the "Kaiser-Walzer" is frog-stepped along as though Warren-Green wants to give someone a lesson. Give me the good old Viennese Schmaltz any time. And the concluding "Radetzky-March" is such a straight-down-the-line affair that even a Viennese New Year’s Day audience could clap their hands to it without getting lost.
But then there are moments when Warren-Green goes right to the other extreme. First of all there is a "Pizzicato Polka" which appears to be designed as a visiting card to demonstrate the conductor’s total control over his players. "Anything Mengelberg could do I can do far more" seems to be the line. I got no enjoyment out of this. And then the Waltzes, and this is where the non-Viennese usually come unstuck. Actually he has a very convincing lilt, when he leaves the music alone. If only he would do so more often. His up-beats into the "Kaiser" and the "Blue Danube" are not merely schmaltzy lingerings leading into the waltz proper, the music absolutely stops for an age on those few notes until the conductor finally gets it started. There would appear to exist some secret guidebook for conductors (nobody’s seen it but they’ve all got a copy) which says "Thou shalt not take the F major section of the ‘Blue Danube’ in tempo" (I wish somebody would tell me one day why not); what Warren-Green does with it is pretty nasty. There is also a performance of "Die Fledermaus" Overture where some passages are so strict as to be positively rigid, others get full rubato treatment and others again, I have to say, go with a good deal of verve. You might also expect a Johann Strauss Orchestra to be a stickler for repeats but no, "The Blue Danube" (the only one of which I have a score) has quite a few missing.
Then there is another matter, and buffs will have seen it already in the title. Several of the pieces are arranged by Max Schönherr. I haven’t specific information about Schönherr but he was for very many years a stalwart of Viennese light music, conducting discs and broadcasts galore with plenty of verve and a bit of brashness. He was a firm believer in dressing up Strauss for a more modern public, adding in a few counter-melodies and tarting up the orchestration, not untastefully but in a way which brought the Strausses forward into the world of Léhar and Kálmán. I don’t suggest you will hear startling differences, and you may hear none at all for the Schönherr arrangements have been widely used and we know Strauss through his ears far more than we imagine. All the same, you would expect a Johann Strauss orchestra to be urtext-mongers through and through. Or alternatively, if Warren-Green feels that Strauss arr. Schönherr has a historical place, then the booklet might have discussed this point.
So it’s all rather a curate’s egg. Aficionados will pick up the rarities and enjoy most of the polkas and, especially, the Josef Strauss Polka-Mazur. Reservations over the two big waltzes unfortunately preclude a strong recommendation overall. Brilliant recording.
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