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Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Jabuka (Das Apfelfest) – Operetta in Three Acts (1894)
Thomas Tischler (tenor) – Mirko von Gradinaz; Wolfgang Veith (tenor) – Vasil von Gradinaz; Michael Schober (bass) – Mischa, a rich peasant; Veronika Groiss (soprano) – Jelka, his daughter; Elisabeth Wolfbauer (mezzo) – Petja, her aunt; Helmut Josef Ettl (baritone) – Bambora, a factory owner; Elisabeth Wolfbauer (mezzo) – Annita, his daughter; Franz Födinger (tenor) – Joschko, a court servant;
Gaudeamus Choir Brno; European Johann Strauss Orchestra/Christian Pollack
rec. Dĕlnický dům, Pozořice, Czech Republic, 28-30 June 2005; 9 January 2007
Dance Arrangements from the Operetta “Jabuka”:
1. Ich bin dir gut!, Walzer, Op. 455 (arr. Johann Strauss II) [10:15]
2. Zivio!, Marsch, Op. 456 (orch. Gustav Fischer) [3:29]
3. Das Comitat geht in die Hoh’!, Polka schnell, Op. 457 (arr. Louis Roth, orch. Christan Pollack)
4. Tanze mit dem Besenstiel!, Polka française, Op. 458 (arr. Louis Roth, orch. Christan Pollack)
5. Sonnenblume, Polka-Mazur, Op. 459 (arr. Louis Roth, orch. Christan Pollack)
6. Jabuka-Quadrille, Op. 460 (arr. E. Strauss, orch. Christian Pollack)
7. Jabuka (Das Apfelfest), Potpourri No. 1 (arr. anon.; orch. Christan Pollack)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)/Johannes Wildner (1, 2); Christian Pollack (3 – 7)
previously released on Marco Polo
NAXOS 8.660216-17 [74:05 + 64:23]

 


In all Johann Strauss II wrote eighteen stage works, if we include Wiener Blut.

Wiener Blut was assembled from his compositions, arranged and structured by Adolf Müller with the composer’s consent, Strauss having been busy with his only ballet Aschenbrödel (Cinderella) at the time. Wiener Blut was premiered in 1899 after Strauss’s death. Of his sixteen operettas - he also wrote an opera, Ritter Pasman, in 1892 - the first was Indigo und die vierzig Räuber (Indigo and the Forty Thieves) in 1871. Three years later came his greatest success, Die Fledermaus, which is regarded by many as “The operetta of operattas”. Not many of his stage works are regularly performed today. Besides Fledermaus only Der Zigeunerbaron and Eine Nacht in Venedig hold much of a place in the active repertoire.

The reason for the neglect of his stage-works is less musical than textual and Jabuka is no exception. It was quite well received at the premiere on 12 October 1894. That day fell during a very special week,  when Vienna was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Strauss’s artistic debut. The liner-notes to this world premiere recording call the performance “the crowning jewel of the celebration”. After the fiftieth performance it was taken out of the schedule of the Theater an der Wien and the rest has been silence. The libretto was written by the journalist Max Kalbeck, famous for his Brahms biography. He was also the one who translated Smetana’s Bartered Bride into German. However he had no experience of writing for the theatre.  Kalbeck wrote the plot while Gustav Davis wrote the lyrics. Pretty soon they came into conflict. Kalbeck wanted the work to be more like an opera. Davis stuck to the operetta idiom. The end result is interesting and quite original and the dichotomy is apparent. On the one hand there are a number of typical operetta couplets for Joschko, the comic character who was played at the premiere by the great Alexander Girardi. On the other hand it is very operatic – but with Strauss’s typical Viennese melodiousness. There are few arias but numerous ensembles and lavish participation from the chorus. It wouldn’t be completely wrong to label it “a choral operetta” since the ensemble is just as central and actively participant as the individual characters. It is a sparkling and exuberant score and isn’t it a pity that Strauss should waste so much of his talent on inferior librettos; not only here but generally speaking?

This operetta takes place in 19th century Serbia. It is time for the annual apple festival, Jabuka, where future grooms and brides meet. When a boy is interested in a girl he bites an apple and gives it to her; if she is interested she also takes a bites and gives the apple back. If she gives it back without biting, the answer is “no”. Shall I try to relate the plot? Oh, no! It’s so tricky - typical operetta. However, two impoverished noblemen who come to the festival to sell their castle and fall in love with one girl each. After a long series of complications, where Joschko, the court servant – the Girardi role – plays a central part, everything is sorted out and they get their girls. In the finale everybody is happy and dance a typical Johann Strauss waltz.

This recording is supposed to be of the complete operetta. It doesn’t say anywhere in the notes but I suspect that there is some spoken dialogue between numbers, to carry the plot forward. If so, it is omitted. This doesn’t matter too much. What counts is the music and it is, by and large, out of Strauss’s top drawer. There is no overture but instead a festive prelude with chorus. Then follows a string of pearls of rousing and beautiful melodies. The entr’acte before act III is a delicious piece and later in the act there is a sensitive quartet. 

The European Johann Strauss Orchestra doesn’t really exist. It was assembled specially for this recording and its core comprises players from the Brno Symphony Orchestra, who are well attuned to Strauss’s music. They are reinforced by musicians from both Austria and Hungary. The Gaudeamus Choir is a permanent body with members from the universities and other schools in Brno. They have 45 members but I wonder if they too have hired extras. The singing and playing is constantly impressive and Christian Pollack, a real authority on Strauss, leads the proceedings with drive and refinement. 

The soloists are never less than fully inside their roles, even though there are no star performances, but this is, as I have already mentioned, primarily an ensemble opera. The bass Michael Schober as Mischa is the best of the bunch and Franz Födinger is a lively and expressive Joschko. 

As a “filler” (46:09) to CD 2 we get seven dance arrangements from the operetta. Of these the only arrangement made by the composer is that of the waltz Ich bin dir gut! It is also the best of them. Most of the other pieces were arranged for piano by other people and orchestrated by Christian Pollack. 

For lovers of Viennese orchestral music this is a real treat. All of these numbers have been released before and are culled from Marco Polo’s extensive Johann Strauss series. The booklet has informative notes by Strauss scholars. There is also a detailed track-related synopsis. The sound is excellent – in the operetta, that is. Some of the orchestral pieces of the filler are more variable but fully acceptable.

Operetta lovers – I hope I’m not the only survivor – should jump at the opportunity to add an “unknown” Johann Strauss operetta to their collections. 

Göran Forsling 

See also Review by Simon Thompson

 

 

 


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