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Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Wiener Blut (1899) (arr. Adolf Müller, Jr.)
Karl Dönch (baritone) – Prince Ypsheim-Gindelbach, Prime Minister; Nicolai Gedda (tenor) – Balduin Count Zedlau, Count; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Gabriele, Countess; Karel Stepanek (speaking role) – Count Bitowski; Erika Köth (soprano) – Demoiselle Franziska Cagliari, Franzi; Hannah Norbert (speaking role) – Franzi; Alois Pernerstorfer (speaking role) – Kagler; Emmy Loose (soprano) – Pepi Pleininger; Erich Kunz (baritone) – Josef;
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Otto Ackermann
rec. 21-22, 26-28, 31 May 1954, Kingsway Hall, London. ADD
NAXOS 8.111257 [69:43]

 


Wiener Blut, literally ‘Vienna Blood’ is in this context rather to be translated ‘Vienna Spirit’. It is not an operetta by Johann Strauss but an operetta built on Strauss’s music, adapted and arranged by Adolf Müller Jr. with the approval of the composer. It was not premiered until four months after Johann Strauss’ death. The work was commissioned by the manager of the Carl Theatre, Franz Jauner, and the book was by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, whose most famous collaboration undoubtedly was Die lustige Witwe six years later. The title is borrowed from one of Strauss’s most popular waltzes and the idea was to recycle melodies from older compositions by him. Müller, who was house conductor at the Theater an der Wien, made an excellent job, which not only meant that he selected a number of fine melodies but actually knitted together themes very skilfully. I believe Strauss would have been very satisfied with him, had he lived long enough to hear the finished product. The story is set at the time of the Congress of Vienna 1814-1815, when European politicians tried to restore the order after the Napoleonic Wars. This backdrop has nothing to do with the actual proceedings, which are of the traditional operetta kind with amorous intrigues and misunderstandings, which in the last act are sorted out and everybody lives happily ever after … For Franz Jauner the outcome was anything but happy. He invested in a lavish production that was a fiasco, it ran for a mere 30 performances, left Jauner bankrupt and in February 1900 he shot himself. The story doesn’t end there, however, since Wiener Blut was reworked and revived at the Theater an der Wien a few years later, where it was a success. In 1928 the Vienna Volksoper mounted the work and it is still in their repertoire.

Walter Legge included Wiener Blut in his Columbia series of Vienna operettas in the early-to-mid-1950s. It was conducted by one of the great exponents of this often elusive music, which needs a sweet tooth but also rhythmic drive and high spirits, an equation that many a world famous conductor has failed to solve. The Philharmonia and – not to be forgotten – the Philharmonia Chorus assisted him superbly and his handpicked standard line-up of singers couldn’t be bettered: Schwarzkopf, Loose, Gedda, Kunz and the lesser-known Karl Dönch. Here this select company is augmented by the young Erika Köth, warmer of tone than in some later recordings, and the important Viennese bass Alois Pernerstorfer in a speaking part. He was a pillar of strength at the Vienna State Opera for many seasons in a wide variety of roles, spent a couple of years at the Metropolitan and can be heard on a number of complete opera recordings. The most famous of these is perhaps Furtwängler’s live Ring des Nibelungen from La Scala, where he was Alberich, a role that requires an expressive actor. As Kagler, a circus manager who is also the father of the Count’s mistress, Franzi, he lacks big opportunities to show his capacity, especially since the spoken dialogue is heavily cut to squeeze the operetta onto two LPs. However his dark, sonorous voice undoubtedly lends authority to his lines.

Of the regulars Emmy Loose and Erich Kunz are just as warm as usual, both at heart and in voice. The sing a rousing duet (tr. 9) which is an adaptation of the polka Leichtes Blut. Karl Dönch, without being a world-class singer, lends a lot of Viennese charm and character to his role as Prime Minister and as the noblest of Counts and Countesses, Gedda and Schwarzkopf use all their considerable skill to portrait the aristocrats. Gedda offers melting tone and exquisite phrasing, Schwarzkopf appears with her usual myriad nuances and exquisite word-pointing. Her entrance aria (tr. 14) is the well known waltz Morgenblätter. Their show-stealing star scene is at the beginning of act 2 (tr. 18-19), a duet which eventually leads over to the real Wiener Blut, sung with lilting charm by the couple. The Philharmonia round off with glowing string playing in the postlude. In the finale of act 2 (tr. 26-28) where everybody is gathered, Müller has skilfully woven together melodies from both An der schönen blauen Donau and Wein, Weib und Gesang. The whole operetta ends with a reprise of the title waltz, where everybody again joins in. It is a high-spirited performance, on a par with the others in this series, of which, as far as I know, only Der Zigeunerbaron now remains to be issued. Ackermann also recorded Die Fledermaus some years later in stereo but with a quite different cast.

As usual with these reissues we are not vouchsafed a libretto but Keith Anderson’s generous synopsis is a valuable substitute, even though it doesn’t convey the details of the dialogue, which by the way can be a problem to understand even for those who are fluent in German. The Vienna dialect that some of these native speakers employ, is about as far removed from standard German as cockney from the Queen’s English. Irreverent as it may sound, the story isn’t the main reason for appreciating this operetta; I can be fully content just to close my eyes and enjoy the wonderful melodies and the artistic execution. Mark Obert-Thorn is a guarantee of the best possible sound quality derived from the original LP pressings. Every operetta lover should invest in this issue – as well as those of Die lustige Witwe, Das Land des Lächelns, Eine Nacht in Venedig and, with Karajan conducting but the same main singers, Die Fledermaus.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 


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