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Viennafest
Johann STRAUSS Sr (1804-1849)
Radetsky March [3.13]
Johann STRAUSS Jr (1825-1899)
Overture to The Gypsy Baron [7.27]; Jager Polka (Hunstman Polka) [2.50]; Frühlingsstimmen Walzer (Voices of Spring Waltzes – Tracy Dahl, soprano [5.41]; Nachtigall Polka (Nightingale Polka) [3.26]; Studenten Polka (Students’ Polka) [2.53]
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Gold and Silver Waltzes [6.34]
Johann STRAUSS Jr

Im Sturmschritt Polka Schnell (At the double, fast polka) [2.52]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916)
Mit Dampf Polka Schnell (At full steam, fast polka) [2.11]
Franz LEHÁR
Ballsirenen Walzer (Siren of the dances waltzes) from The Merry Widow [6.38]
Emmerich KALMAN (1882-1953)
Overture to Countess Maritza [4.13]
Josef LANNER (1801-1843)
Hofball-Tanze Walzer (Court Ball Waltzes [5.36]
Oscar STRAUS (1870-1954)
Walzertraume (Waltz Dreams) [6.45]
Robert STOLZ (1880-1975)
Zwei Herzen in Dreiviertelakt (Two hearts in three-quarter time) [2.42]
Johann STRAUSS Jr

Overture to Die Fledermaus [8.20]
Rudolf SIECZYNSKI (1877-1952)
Wien, Wien nur du allein (Vienna, City of my dreams) [4.33]
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
rec. Cincinnati, Ohio, February 2000. DDD
TELARC CD80547 [77.24]



This album has either taken seven years to get to us or its popularity is kept alive with regular re-issues.  In any event, Erich Kunzel certainly knows how to tap the musical conscience of his public to deliver music that we were not conscious we were missing.  And he delivers it with style.  He’s made a life-long occupation of it.  Music by Gershwin (at last count four albums devoted to him), two albums of Hollywood’s Greatest Hits, two albums devoted to the Strauss family (this will make the third), an album of orchestral Stokowski transcriptions … the list goes on and on.  Many have been Grammy-nominated and at least one – an album of Copland’s music – has won the coveted award.
 
In my younger days this type of music (perhaps a bit more pop-oriented then) was dished out by the likes of Mantovani, Melachrino and later James Last, Bert Kaempfert and even Geoff Love aka Manuel (and his Music of the Mountains).  This, of course, was before a certain Spanish waiter from Barcelona became Basil’s dogs-body in Fawlty Towers.  Kunzel’s music is a tad more sophisticated, he delves more into the classics, but the principle is the same.  Give ‘em stuff they know, wrapped with strings and a bit of the ole lush orchestration!
 
This year’s re-issue (if it is that) is the glorification of the waltz.  And a good job Kunzel makes of it.  The waltz, as we all know, was popularised by the Strauss family firm of Johann and Son.  Johann Senior was the originator both as an orchestra leader and composer but Junior set himself up as a rival and, after Senior’s death, carried on the musical tradition even further.
 
Richard E. Rodda’s excellent cover notes on the subject of the waltz make for very entertaining reading.  The waltz, he tells us was despised by many at the height of its popularity and this despite the fact that composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Berlioz indulged in the format.  Quoting an English gentleman c. 1830, Rodda tells us that it was ‘the fiend of German birth, destitute of grace, delicacy and propriety, a disgusting practice.’  However, with the help of both Papa Strauss and a certain Josef Lanner this disgusting practice took off in Central Europe and ballrooms were soon overflowing with 50,000 twirling Viennese all, according to Richard Wagner possessed by ‘a stronger narcotic than alcohol!’  Obviously an indication of the therapy used by AA at the time!
 
Seriously though, Kunzel entertains us with all kind of waltzes on this CD.  There are polkas too and three overtures.  In fact, the overture to Die Fledermaus is probably the best I have ever heard, certainly it’s the most energetic.  The other overture is Junior’s The Gypsy Baron which he wrote following a visit to Hungary having been seduced by the tales and folk music of Magyar life, not to mention the food and wine.  Also in this album is the sung version of Voices of Spring, sung on this occasion by soprano Tracy Dahl although I still prefer the version by Amelia Farrugia whose album – Joie de Vivre - I reviewed some months back.  There are also, amongst others, waltzes by Junior’s brother Eduard, Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kalman and that other fellow who started this whole fad with Papa Strauss, Josef Lanner.  However, the example chosen from the latter’s work is not as seductive as that of his contemporaries.
 
Kunzel conducts with his usual panache and even if you’re not a fan of Viennese waltzes you should, at least, try and experience what got Wagner so excited.  And next time you feel like a drop of you-know-what take the wife or the girlfriend or the mother or even the mistress for a twirl or two!
 
Randolph Magri-Overend

 




 


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