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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Johann STRAUSS (II) (1825-1899)
Valses, Polkas, Ouvertures

Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, RV 214 (1858) [2.48]
Ouvertüre, Die Fledermaus, RV 503-1 (1874) [8.28]
Csardas, Die Fledermaus, RV 503-2 (1873) [4.42]
Nordseebilder, Walzer, RV 390 (1879) [9.25]
Im Sturmschritt, Polka schnell, RV 348 (1871) [2.17]
Neue Pizzikato Polka, RV 449 (1892) [2.56]
Perpetuum mobile, RV 257-2 (1881) [2.51]
Frühlingsstimmen, Walzer, RV 410 (1883) [6.42]
Ouvertüre zu Der Zigeunerbaron, RV 511-1 (1885) [8.07]
An der schönen blauen Donau, Walzer, RV 314 (1867) [10.53]
Egyptischer Marsch, RV 335 (1869) [5.11]
Éljen a Magyar, Polka, RV 332 (1869) [2.52]
Furioso Polka, quasi Galopp, RV 260 (1861) [2.34]
Orchestra Anima Eterna/Jos van Immerseel
Recorded in La Grande Salle de L’Arsenal à Metz, April 2000
ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT 020601 [70:32]

The music of Johann Strauss has for many years been played almost incessantly by light music ensembles of various types and sizes including Palm Court orchestras and radio ensembles. Most people have found the music very attractive on first hearing and many people have developed a love of classical music from a love of the works of Strauss. Some have found that familiarity leads to contempt, an attitude often found amongst some professional musicians and common amongst musical snobs. Those of an older generation probably have not noticed that, with the almost universal victory of modern pop music over light music, performances of Strauss’s music have become fairly rare (even on Classic FM you are much more likely to hear Grieg, Mozart and Gershwin than Strauss). Die Fledermaus as an opera remains popular but in the main, Strauss waltzes and polkas are almost only heard at the New Year ... especially at the famous Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s day concert which appears on both radio and TV in many countries.

This state of affairs coincides with the completion of part of the Johann Strauss critical edition by a team headed by Michael Rot. The final complete version will comprise about seventy volumes. The time is now ripe for the re-appraisal of Strauss’s music. I hope that this CD will spearhead that process.

The Anima Eterna is an original instrument orchestra that has specialised in playing the music of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven. Jos van Immerseel in his notes describes his initial rather sceptical reaction when approached with the new Edition. However he discovered more and more good music, nay - great music, and brilliant orchestration. The musician’s initial reaction had been similar to his, but this disappeared when they began to play the music.

It was decided to use small string sections to avoid smothering the wind instruments and to allow the strings to participate like partners in chamber music. During the first rehearsal of the programme, realisation grew that Strauss' music was only a small step away from Mozart and Schubert, whose Menuets, Ländler and Polka finales they had already played. During the rehearsals the orchestra expected that some changes would be needed but they quickly realised that was not necessary. Strauss's scores, like those of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, were perfect scripts. Dancers helped in research on the relationship between this type of music and dance; their opinions on tempi were particularly edifying.

The Vienna Philharmonic is famous for its performances of Strauss waltzes that are said to be based upon a long tradition. Their style is associated with a lengthening of the second beat in the bar. Research on old recordings indicated that in fact such resulting emphasis was of comparatively recent origin. When "restoring" Strauss’s music it was agreed that the beat linked with the music of Schubert and Brahms should be adopted. When the second beat no longer needed special attention, the impulse now comes from the first beat.

Compared to the sound that we are used to, what we hear on this CD is a revelation. The music is very attractive, very clear and transparent. Every strand can be identified with the individual timbre of each instrument heard in a musically attractive way. The timpani in particular make a real contribution to the music. Most of the pieces presented here are available in admired versions conducted by musicians such as Clemens Kraus, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan but comparisons tend to favour the new version. This is not only due to the excellence of the recording but especially because the clarity of the original scoring makes the music sound so much more interesting. As you might expect, the difference is least apparent in Perpetual Motion (RV 257-2) which has always been considered an orchestral showpiece in its own right, not as dance music.

To many the most attractive items are the three relatively unknown works. At the Double (RV 348) was originally a number in the 1871 Operetta Indigo and the Forty Thieves. Strauss was trying to outdo Offenbach by writing a wild can-can. The version here was written for the ballroom and holds its own in comparison to Offenbach’s works. The CD ends with a bang: Furioso (RV 260) although described as a Polka is in essence a wild and exciting Galopp. However the memorable new work is North Sea Pictures (RV 390). This was inspired by a holiday Strauss had in the Isle of Föhr in the North sea with his second wife. The orchestral writing is outstanding and the piece is like an orchestral suite – the storm at sea in the coda creates a truly remarkable effect.

This is an altogether remarkable CD, which using the original scores excellently played in original instrumentation presents a view of the music of Strauss that most would find revelatory. The recording is first rate and the production values high including copious fascinating notes written by the conductor.

Arthur Baker

 



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