Spirit of Vienna - Vol. 2
Richard EILENBERG (1848-1925) Die Kaiserjäger, Marsch, Op. 114 [2:48]
Johann STRAUSS III (1866-1939) Die Schlittschuhläuferin Walzer, Op. 31 [8:55]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916) Im Flug mit ihr! Polka schnell, Op. 231 [3:56]
Oscar FETRÁS (1854-1931) Harves’tehuder Schwalben, Op. 93 [7:47]
Carl M. ZIEHRER (1843-1922) Mutterwitz, Polka schnell [3:04]
Iosef IVANOVICI (1845-1902) Viata la Bucaresti [8:49]
Eilenberg Die Jagd nach dem Glück, Galop Op. 69 [3:52]
Juventino ROSAS (1868-1894) Carmen Waltz [10:56]
Carl W. DRESCHER (1850-1925) Die schöne Wienerin, Marsch-Polka, Op. 94 [3:03]
Karl KOMZÁK II (1850-1905) Feinsliebchen, Polka-Mazur, Op. 123 [4:22]
Josef GUNG’L (1809-1889) Jungherren Tänze Walzer, Op. 213 [2:56]
Leo FALL (1873-1925) Dollarwalzer, on themes from The Dollar Princess [8:41]
Die Flotten Geister/Christian Pollack
rec. 1-2 February 2009, Tonstudio Rajchman, Dolni Bojanovice, Czech Republic
TONSTUDIO JR02332 [74:32]

Christian Pollack is, by now, the world’s leading expert on the Viennese waltz. A professor at the Vienna Conservatory, he conducted for Marco Polo nine discs of music by Johann Strauss II, ten discs of Johann Strauss I, and a multitude of works by Josef Strauss, Karel Komzák, Franz von Suppé and Carl M. Ziehrer. Many of those discs contained works for which the original scores were wholly or partially lost, and Pollack often stepped in to edit or orchestrate the missing parts himself. Now, at the behest of the Johann Strauss Societies of Great Britain and the Czech Republic, Pollack is in the middle of a series of recordings entitled “Spirit of Vienna”, dedicated to unearthing never-before-heard Viennese dance classics and giving their world-premiere recordings. In such an effort there is bound to be an assortment of both hits and misses, and that is certainly the case here. The hits, however, are well worth your attention.

For this volume in the series Pollack and his small but dedicated orchestra, Die flotten Geister, have looked beyond the confines of the Strauss family to include music by Komzák and Ziehrer, several German composers, the Romanian Iosif Ivanovici and even the Mexican composer Juventino Rosas, whose waltz Sobre las olas is so famous that it has even been parodied on the television show Sesame Street. Rosas is here represented by a waltz called Carmen (no connection with the famous opera!), part of a line-up of twelve world premieres which includes six waltzes, four polkas, a march and a gallop.

As mentioned, some of the discoveries here are not particularly exciting. Johann Strauss III’s Die Schlittschuhläuferin Walzer (The Lady Skater’s Waltz) reveals that the last member of the Strauss dynasty did not really live up to the standards of his predecessors … or of his contemporary, Franz Lehár. The Juventino Rosas work, Carmen, uses occasional maraca clacks to impart a rather fake Mexican feel to the irrepressibly European music - although I should note that the orchestration is by conductor Pollack. Josef Gung’l’s waltz The Young Gentlemen’s Dance features music as prosaic as its rather vague title.

But the fact that a disc like this would have so many successes is really remarkable. Ivanovici’s Viata La Bucaresti (Bucharest Life) is absolutely fantastic, and structurally quite interesting too - it begins in one-two time before shifting smoothly into a delectable waltz. Karel Komzák’s contribution, a polka-mazurka named Feinsliebchen (Pretty Sweetheart), is indeed a worthy love letter to a pretty sweetheart. A suite of highlights from Leo Fall’s operetta The Dollar Princess, arranged by the composer into waltz form, rounds out the disc in style.

And there is at least one work on this disc which very obviously belongs in every Strauss aficionado’s collection and needs to be played by the Vienna Philharmonic sometime soon: the extraordinary gallop Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Hunt for Happiness) by Richard Eilenberg. In its compact four-minute frame this little masterpiece packs three great tunes, some great orchestration, and enough smiles to last an hour or two. Music like this is the reason Christian Pollack toils away in the archives of Vienna, and the reason we listen to such light-hearted classics in the first place.

Die flotten Geister (“The Dashing Spirits” or “The Elegant Spirits”; my thanks to Thomas Reinhart for the translation) is a small orchestra whose members are all very clearly fond of the music they are playing. The winds and brass are given prominent place in the ensemble and the recording, although their playing is not always perfect. The major fly in the ointment is the tiny string section: it sounds as if there are only four or five violinists in total! Worse, some of the violinists are very clearly not up to the (modest) demands of the music. I suspect that if the Vienna Philharmonic were to turn their attention to this music, they would bring considerable polish and elegance to the waltzes by Ivanovici and Fall, and much more pep and flair to the faster dances by Ziehrer, Drescher, Komzák and especially Eilenberg. The comparison is absurd: the Vienna Philharmonic will never take up this music, to their detriment.

Ensemble shortcomings aside, any lover of this kind of music will want to seek out this disc, available at the Johann Strauss Society’s website and major UK web shops. All of these works are well crafted, and some are quite memorable. I can only imagine the joy with which Christian Pollack unearthed Die Jagd nach dem Glück; he must have felt, holding a solid-gold light-music classic in his hands, knowing that nobody had seen, heard or performed it in nearly a century, that his was the best job in the world.

Brian Reinhart