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Johann STRAUSS Senior (1804-1849)
Johann Strauss 1 Edition: Vol. III
Es ist nur ein Wien! (Walzer), op.22, Josephstädter-Tänze, op.23, Hietzinger Reunion (Walzer), op.24, Frohsinn im Gebirge (Walzer), op.26, Hirten-Galoppe, op.28, Wettrennen-Galoppe, op.29ª, Wilhelm Tell-Galoppe, op.29b, Sperls-Feswalzer, op.30, Des Verfassers beste Laune, op.31, Einzugs-Galopp, op.35, 3 Ungarische Galoppe oder Frischka, op.36, Sperl-Galopp, op.42, Contredanses, Oeuvre 44
Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina/Ernst Märzendorfer
Recorded 21st-26th June 2002 at the Fatra Concert Hall, Žilina
MARCO POLO 8.225253 [54:14]


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The first two volumes in this series dedicated to Johann Strauss père were conducted by Christian Pollack, using different orchestras. [Volume 1, Volume 2] While I admired Pollack’s general approach, non-interventionist and dance-oriented, I felt that the quality of the orchestra used for Volume 1, the Camerata Cassovia, as well as the rather modest nature of the very early works, limited the issue to Strauss completists. The second volume used the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina which, if not entirely beyond reproach in matters of intonation and ensemble, was a distinct improvement on the Camerata Cassovia. And, while the young composer’s inspiration was still short-winded and not highly memorable, he was developing an original line in orchestration, with the result that this volume was of rather wider interest.

Now we have the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina again under a different conductor. Does this make a difference? Yes, it definitely does. Though general collectors may know Ernst Märzendorfer only as the conductor of Nicanor Zabaleta’s recordings of harp concertos by Boieldieu, Rodrigo, Reinecke and Mozart’s flute and harp concerto (with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic respectively, DG discs issued in 1961 and 1963 that have been recycled and recoupled over the years) he has in fact had a long and distinguished career. Born in Oberndorf, Salzburg in 1921 he studied with Clemens Krauss and became first conductor of the Graz Opera in 1945. He was conductor of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra from 1953-1958, became a permanent conductor of the Vienna State Opera in 1961 and has been a regular conductor of the Berlin State Opera since 1964. In 1999 he was made an Honorary Member of the Vienna State Opera and, though officially retired, still conducts there from time to time. If his career sounds to have been Austro-German-based, he has also made tours on both sides of the Atlantic, conducting, among other things, the first New York performance of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio. His repertoire is wide, stretching from Cavalieri’s Rappresentazione di Anima e Corpo to premières of works by Einem and Henze, and including on the way 20 operettas by Offenbach at the Salzburg Festival. As a recording artist, it seems to have been his fate to have worked mostly for rather obscure labels. His most significant achievement is surely his Haydn cycle, the first complete recording of all 107 symphonies (yes, before Dorati), made with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. For contractual reasons this never enjoyed wide circulation and has not been transferred to CD.

Under his experienced direction the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina appear transformed. Not even he can entirely eliminate the clarinet’s tendency to play sharp but in general a comparison between any track on the earlier disc and any on the present one is rather like looking at a newly-restored painting, so much more refined and pointed is the playing, so much more alive are the rhythms. Märzendorfer’s approach is not actually very different from Pollack’s – he, too, is non-interventionist and dance-oriented – he just does it so much better. I did wonder at first if there was not a slightly professorial air to it – a demonstration of how to conduct Strauss – but come the Hungarian Galops and he certainly stirs things up. I doubt if we can expect to hear better performances of these particular works and this, combined with the young composer’s burgeoning lyricism, makes Volume 3 an essential disc for anyone even remotely interested in this repertoire.

Regarding Strauss himself, Franz Mailer’s useful notes (well translated by Keith Anderson) say of Es ist nur ein Wien!: "… it can clearly be heard that the period of grinding out short motifs in triple time was past. Certainly Johann Strauss had not yet discovered the definitive form of the waltz. … Nevertheless the development of the simple dance into an art work had begun … Perhaps it can be said the Es ist nur ein Wien! stands at the beginning of the spread of Austrian music beyond national borders and to the world." I couldn’t state more clearly the reason why I feel this disc is essential in the way the previous two were not. After my rather doubtful reaction to Volume 1 I am now hooked and very much look forward to the continuation of the series – and I hope Märzendorfer will be conducting some of it.

Interestingly even the recording, made by the same team as the other two (Hentšel and Toperczer) is more distanced and refined this time – the previous efforts were almost aggressively close.

Christopher Howell

 



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