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Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Graduation Ball (arr. Antal Dorati) (1940) [40:59]
Le Beau Danube (arr. Roger Desormière) (1924) [30:11]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Antal Dorati
rec. Sofiensaal, Vienna, December 1976. ADD
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Rec. Kingsway Hall, London, April 1974. ADD

With the wealth of tuneful material available Strauss is an ideal source for arrangers wanting to compile substantial works as ballets. These two ballets are good examples of the genre. With the first on this disc, Graduation Ball, we have the arranger himself conducting. We need not worry about this as the conductor/arranger is none other that Antal Dorati.

Dorati had a wide and long experience of conducting ballet scores and brings this experience to this recording. Not only does he have the right credentials, he also has the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the pre-eminent Strauss orchestras, at his beck and call. Added to this, we also have a premium recording from Decca, done in the Sofiensaal, one of Deccaís favourite European recording venues.

Apart from an uncompleted ballet score Aschenbrödel (Cinderella) it is strange that the master of dance music never completed a ballet score, leaving this to later arrangers. Straussís two most popular ballet scores are on this disc. The first is Le Beau Danube, an arrangement by the French conductor, Roger Desormière. This was written for the Swedish Ballet in Paris but was subsequently revised for the Ballets Russes in Monte-Carlo. Unlike its companion on this disc, it uses material from Johann I and II as well as Joseph and does not have a coherent plot. Choreographed by Massine the ballet consisted of a variety of flirtations and intrigues in a Viennese park.

Richard Bonynge, a long-standing expert in the conducting of ballet scores, makes the National Philharmonic sound almost as good as the Vienna Philharmonic so this disc is of excellent value, both from a monetary standpoint, and more importantly an artistic one as well.

With Graduation Ball, the plot is only slightly more substantial than its companion. The ballet takes place in Vienna in 1840 in a school for girls, although I am sure that some modern re-creation will have it set on a municipal tip in somewhere like Leeds or Manchester. The students are hosting a ball to which the cadets at a nearby military academy have been invited. As the curtain rises, the girls are nervously making preparations for the ball, under the supervision of a florid headmistress. This was originally danced by a male dancer. Flirtations start almost immediately. The Headmistress even pairs off with the chaperone, an elderly General. The ballet consists of a number of dances, chosen by Dorati from the more obscure material of Johann Strauss. A few items from the composerís more popular material is inserted to keep up interest.

Just recently, Eloquence (Australia) has been issuing discs of music by the Strauss family and all of them have been to the standard of this disc. Current UK issues seem to be concentrating on the New Year Concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic. Whilst I can understand the logic behind this, there is much to be said for well produced, played and recorded discs like these for impecunious collectors. My only fear is that they will go unnoticed because of the marketing effort of the competition. Do not be deterred.

Given the low price of this disc, I can give it a highly recommended tag.

John Phillips



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