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Wien bleibt Wien
Johann SCHRAMMEL (1850–1893)
Wien bleibt Wien, March [2:51]
Joseph LANNER (1801–1843)
Die Romantiker, Waltz Op. 167 [10:16]
Cerrito-Polka Op. 189 [5:12]
Abendsterne, Waltz Op. 180 [9:29]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804–1849)
Sperl-Polka Op. 133 [2:31]
Chineser-Galopp Op. 20 [1:41]
Kettenbrücke-Walzer Op. 4 [6:19]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Annen-Polka Op. 117 [4:11]
Wiener-Gemüths-Walzer Op. 116 [7:59]
Johann STRAUSS II and Joseph STRAUSS (1827–1870)
Pizzicato-Polka [2:54]
Die Werber, Waltz Op. 103 [10:29]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835–1916)
Unter der Enns, Polka schnell Op. 121 [1:57]
Thomas Christian Ensemble
rec. 2-4 January 2007, Festsaal des Landesbildungszentrums Schloss Weinberg, Austria

Transcribing and arranging music for available instrumental groups has been the order of the day throughout music history. The purist view that the composer’s intention must not be tampered with is of somewhat later date. The composers themselves normally didn’t mind. Arrangements were at least a guarantee that their music was performed. While arrangements naturally change the character of the music this is not necessarily for the worse. Playing Viennese waltzes and polkas from the 19th century with a small string ensemble removes some of the orchestral colours of the original. On the other hand it can impart to the music a  lightness and transparency - refreshing after having heard too many big band versions.
The present disc is not the only one of its kind; these arrangements have been around for quite some time. Almost twenty years ago I bought a disc (Denon CO-72587) with the Biedermeier Ensemble Wien. It had similar repertoire and in some cases the same arrangements by Alexander Weinmann. The Biedermeier Ensemble was even smaller than the group on this disc. The Thomas Christian Ensemble features a string quartet plus a double-bass while the Biedermeier has no cello. On both these discs the playing is con amore, the players very clearly loving the music deeply. The intimate format allows them to add small interpretative touches, elegant ritardandi and accelerandi that keep the music very much alive.
By the way, isn’t it a strange phenomenon that the Viennese Waltz  and its sibling the polka can be varied, within broad formal limitations, to such an extent as never to feel staid? The rhythms are there once and for all and there is little room for adventurous harmonic excursions. In this collection one of the earliest pieces, the brief Chinese Gallop by Johann Strauss I, with a first documented performance in 1828, is quite the boldest. It has some off-key harmonies that may not be all that Chinese but they are at least slightly exotic.
The playing is constantly sweet and elegant and when required there is also sufficient power. There is also enough variation in the programme to make it, across a single sitting, a thoroughly enjoyable hour’s listen. One also has to be grateful for the inclusion of several pieces by Lanner, by Eduard Strauss, the youngest of his three sons and by Johann Strauss I. Of the latter only the Radetzky March, written in 1848, the year before his death, is frequently heard.
There are interesting notes by Hans Winking and the track-list gives dates for first known performances and information about dedicatees. Thus Lanner’s Abendsterne Walzer was dedicated to Leopold, Prince of the two Sicilies. Politics was often present in the musical world. Of the music I didn’t know before Johann Strauss I’s Wiener-Gemüths-Walzer was dedicated “dem Herrn Fürsten Nikolaus Esterhazy-Galantha” – in all likelihood an offspring of the Esterhazy family which Joseph Haydn had served for so long; probably a collateral branch.
Eduard Strauss’s Polka schnell Under der Enns, which features some collective vocal efforts, is a rousing finale to this utterly delightful programme.
Göran Forsling


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