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Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
Edition Vol. 1

Täuberln-Walzer op.1, Alpenkönig-Galopp op.7/1, Döblinger Réunion-Walzer op.2, Alpenkönig-Galopp op.7/2, Wiener-Carnevals-Walzer op.3, Champagner-Galopp op.8, Kettenbrücke-Walzer op.4, Seufzer-Galopp op.9, Gesellschafts-Walzer op.5, Alte und neue Tempête – Altdeutscher Polstertanz – Altvater Galoppade – Altvater Marsch – Sauvage, Wiener Launenwalzer op.6, Schauer-Galopp, Stelldichein-Galopp
Camerata Cassovia/Christian Pollack
Recorded 12th-15th April 1996 at the House of Arts, Košice, Slovakia DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225213 [53:59]


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Marco Polo have been working steadily through the Strauss family for some time and here is the first instalment of a series dedicated to the father.

Apart from the inevitable Radetzky March, Johann Strauss Senior has tended to be honoured more in name than in fact, and is much less frequently heard than any of his three sons. This disc presents his first nine opus numbers plus a few unnumbered works, all from the latter half of the 1820s. It proves to be expertly turned, melodious music, making for enjoyable listening; yet it prompts a thought which is perhaps endemic to the nature of light music. Since I would not go so far as to call anything here actually memorable, are the pieces not in a certain sense duplications of each other? Is there any particular reason to listen to the six waltzes included here once each rather than one of them six times over? Would you even notice the difference?

I know this is not a very nice thing to say when Marco Polo are setting out to explore the composer’s complete output, and maybe the works from the next two decades will tell another tale, but if you are not a Strauss completist and if, when Volume 2 comes out, instead of buying it you just play Volume 1 again, I suggest you may not miss very much, the more so when the performances are adequate for their purpose rather than wonderfully inspired.

There are two ways of interpreting this repertoire. One way – the "concert" approach – is to treat each piece as a symphonic poem, tickling and teasing the ear with tempo changes, rubatos and other forms of agogic freedom. This is the approach which has been sublimated by the catwalk of podium luminaries – with Herbert von Karajan and Carlos Kleiber at their head – who have led the Vienna New Year’s Day concerts since the ousting of Willi Boskovsky in the early 1970s. The other way – the "dance" approach – is to set up a chunky, chirpy lilt and then hold the tempo straight down the line, with just a minimum of schmaltzy up-beats as a new section begins. The principal exponent of the "dance" approach was Robert Stolz, who recorded a vast selection of this music in his later years. Critical opinion tends to favour the "concert" approach; the undersigned, while not deaf to the allure of Carlos Kleiber in particular, prefers not to have the music mauled about at the conductor’s whim and therefore prefers the "dance" approach, as long as the conductor is able to keep the rhythms alive, something at which Stolz was adept. And incidentally, the recordings conducted by Johann Strauss IV are strong evidence for the "dance" approach.

Wherever you stand on the issue, you will surely recognise the utility of putting a documentary edition such as the present in the hands of a conductor who favours the "dance" approach, especially when the conductor has a Stolz-like ability to keep the rhythms alive and fresh. Christian Pollack is Viennese, has studied with Hans Swarowsky and Sergiu Celibidache and made his first appearance as a conductor in 1971. A musicologist as well as a conductor, he has made a particular study of the Strausses and Viennese dance music. His basic approach seems to me to be exactly right. In the Camerata Cassovia he has a small ensemble (one string to each part) very much in line with those to be heard in the ballrooms of old Vienna, including Lanner’s and Strauss’s own which had three violins and a bass, percussion and a number of wind instruments which grew from six in 1826 to ten in 1829. We are given no information about the present orchestra but I wondered at times if original instruments were being used. A further characteristic of the typical dance band of 1820s Vienna was that (I imagine) ensemble was inclined to be rough and ready and tuning even more so. Unfortunately the present performances are only too authentic from this point of view, to the extent that I wondered if this was in fact an all-professional group. While enjoying the general approach, I felt obliged to listen to the disc in several instalments, taking it off when the raucous ill-tuning (spotlighted by a brilliant and very close recording) started to get me down.

You will gather that this is not a disc for those who just want a selection of Strauss in their CD libraries. Completists should be fairly well satisfied though they are likely to wish Pollack had had a better orchestra to work with.

Christopher Howell

 

 



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