> Johann Strauss II - Waltzer [HT]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899)
Kaiser-Walzer arr. Arnold Schoenberg [12.24]
Rosen aus dem Suden op.388 arr.Arnold Schoenberg [9.51]
Wein, Weib und Gesang op.333 arr. Alban Berg [13.12]
Schatz-Walzer op.418 arr. Anton Webern [13.12]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 - 1971)

Octet for Wind Instruments (1923/1952) [15.22]
Pastorale for Violin and Wind Quartet (1934) [2.54]
Ragtime for Eleven Instruments (1918) [4.38]
Concertino for Twelve Instruments(1952) [6.34]
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
Rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, April 1975 (Stravinsky) and April 1979 (Strauss)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 463 667-2 [73.45]

What a bizarre record – Vienna’s favourite composer given the treatment by Vienna’s least favourite ones. Four waltzes from the Vienna Philharmonic tradition were cunningly stolen by the Second Viennese School to illustrate their ideas. Gone is the sheen, and in its place the harmony alone.

Truth be told, it is hard to see the hands of Schoenberg and his pupils in these beautifully mellifluous transcriptions of favourite waltzes at first hearing, but the effort to reduce the instrumentation without subtracting from Strauss’s musical personality must have been considerable. It is extraordinary that they should have lavished such care and attention on such crowd pleasers for their Society for Private Performances, which is now legendary for its advocacy of such spectacularly controversial works as the First Chamber Symphony and Pierrot Lunnaire.

They can be seen, however, as a part of Schoenberg’s radical ideas about texture, and its subservient relationship to harmony. Schoenberg famously favoured harmony over texture – he transcribed Das Lied Von Der Erde for 13 instruments to prove it – and what is especially pleasing about these waltzes is that, not only do they survive the reduction in forces, but they gain an extra dimension from the different palette. The reduction to piano, string quartet and a couple of winds gives them a beautiful transparency that gives them an increased charm. They still have the marvellous poise and elegance that Strauss imbued his music, but the gloss has been taken off, and Schoenberg shows us that the structure is as beautiful as the façade. Any more than four and I would have turned into a strawberry bon-bon, but as they are they are exquisite. The performances are delightful – the Boston players were a very fine collection. Their sound is divine, and they oom-pah-pah with the utmost refinement.

Composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Pergolesi may have all been fuel for Stravinsky’s neo-classical engine, but there isn’t much synergy between Strauss and the Stravinsky chamber music that fills up the rest of the disc. No matter: it's very fine Stravinsky in very fine performances. Ragtime is an excellent performance – the players really get under the skin of this pungent little miniature, as they do with the Concertino. The Octet, while sensitively played, feels a little underpowered, and meanders a little in the quieter sections. I would not recommend this disc on the strength of the Stravinsky alone - those looking for these works will find them all with the Septet in an even finer recording by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the European Soloists on Decca – but they do make interesting listening as a bonus to the Strauss waltzes.

Aidan Twomey

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