Vienna Premieres
Track-listing at end of review
*Marilyn Hill Smith (soprano)
(Vienna) Johann Strauss Orchestra/Jack Rothstein
rec. St Barnabas Church, North Finchley, London, 18-19 May 1983 [CD 1]; St Peter's Church, Morden, London, 12-13 December 1986 [CD 2]; Goldsmiths College, University of London, 30-31 July 1992 [CD 3]. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10684(3) X [3 CDs: 64:42 + 56:19 + 61:18]

The three discs in this boxed set were originally released as separate volumes over a decade beginning in the early 1980s. This reissue repeats the original promises of "first ever recordings of works by the Strauss family and their Viennese contemporaries, performed complete, in the original instrumentation." That is mostly but not entirely accurate, as the track-listing itself makes clear: two of Carl Millöcker's three pieces are arrangements by contemporaries, Johann Strauss II's Klug Gretelein is a reconstruction by John Bell, and his Nur Nicht Mucken an orchestration by Edward Peak, as is Eduard Strauss's Österreichs Völker-Treue.

The box itself is also somewhat misleading, in that the prominence of Marilyn Hill Smith's name will almost certainly cause the casual browser to expect her contribution to amount to more than ten minutes. Moreover, the "Johann Strauss Orchestra" in modern parlance is impresario André Rieu's band - considerably more high-profile these days than the ensemble for these Chandos recordings, the Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra. A further labelling curiosity is the fact that the original Volume 3 credits the "Viennese Orchestra of London", which was Jack Rothstein's own ensemble, yet this new set mentions only the Johann Strauss Orchestra.

Main contributions to the three volumes are 9 pieces by Johann Strauss II, 10 by his younger brother Josef, and 11 by the youngest of the trio, Eduard. There are 2 by their father Johann Strauss I also, and 2 more by Eduard's son, Johann Strauss III. Finally, for extra interest, or comparison's sake, there are pieces by prominent contemporaries: 3 by Carl Millöcker, 2 by Carl Michael Ziehrer and a single from Philipp Fahrbach Jnr. All of these are mixed together in the recordings for variety.

There are waltzes, various kinds of polkas and marches, the majority around three minutes in length. On each CD there are three or four longer works, coming in at between seven and ten minutes. Many of the pieces have titles that are amusingly quaint, and several that sound peculiarly Eastern Bloc: Freedom March, Happy Life Waltz, March Past March, Forwards! Polka, Hectograph Polka, Sowing and Harvest Polka, Subscribers Waltz. Oddly enough, the booklet notes, furnished by the Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain, describe the almost Marxist-style backgrounds to many of the pieces. For example, Johann II's Concurrenzen Waltz was written for the 1862 Industrial Societies Ball; Eduard's Hectograph is dedicated to the Technical Engineers ball's organising committee; and his Saat und Ernte was composed for the 1877 International Grain and Seed Congress!

The style of all the music here will be familiar to everyone who has ever seen the Vienna Philharmonic's famous New Year's concerts from the Musikverein, broadcast annually to seventy-odd countries. For those that really have no idea, this enthusiastic review of Volume 3 in 1999 gives a description of what this genre sounds like, whilst this review of the Decca DVD recording of the 2010 New Year's Concert gives a good idea of the diverting atmosphere the music automatically catalyses.

There is no denying that much of it is decidedly light, the Polkas most of all. Rothstein's deliberately upbeat tempos do little to downplay this impression. Yet there are also several beautifully crafted gems strewn amongst the frothier fare, all nicely played by the JSO. Highlights from CD 1 include Josef's lovely, lilting Frohes Leben Waltz - ironically written the year before his untimely death - and Eduard's jaunty Hectograph Polka. From CD 2, Eduard's masterly blending of themes from no less than two dozen of his brother Johann's works and Johann III's invigorating schnell polka, Schlau-Schlau. From CD 3, Johann III's Berlin-inspired Unter den Linden, Philipp Fahrbach II's Storchschnäbel - the 19th century equivalent of John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine, but less tedious! - Eduard's finest hour, his Schleier und Krone Waltz, Johann I's cheeky Carneval in Paris, and his Freiheits-Marsch, which is crying out for military band advocacy.

Sound quality is good throughout, especially considering the age of the recordings. The booklet is clean, glossy and informative. The notes are straight from the originals, with updated biographies, though there is still no information on this Johann Strauss Orchestra, which is all the more peculiar for the fact that Marilyn Hill Smith, for her contribution to two out of 45 tracks, fine as it is, receives almost as much space as Jack Rothstein. The three CDs come in card sleeves, housed in a sturdy, lustrous box.

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Carl MILLÖCKER (1842-1899)
Die Sieben-Schwaben-Marsch (arr. Carl Wilhelm Drescher (1850-1925)) [3:36]
Jonathan-Marsch (arr. Ludwig Schlögel (1844-1894)) [3:06]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Concurrenzen, op.267 [10:40]
L'Inconnue, op.182 [2:13]
*Neuer Csárdás (1896) for 'Die Fledermaus' [3:55]
Hoch Österreich!, op.371 [2:32]
Alexandrinen-Polka, op.198 [3:38]
Eduard STRAUSS (1835-1916)
Knall und Fall, op.132 [3:00]
Leuchtkäferln, op.161 [9:47]
Hectograph, op.186 [2:12]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Frohes Leben, op.272 [9:57]
Vorwärts!, op.127 [3:00]
Nachtschatten, op.229 [3:48]
Elfen-Polka, op.74 [3:10]

CD 2

For Ever, op.193 [2:44]
Defilir-Marsch, op.53 [2:54]
Farewell!, op.211 [1:47]
Blüthenkranz Johann Strauss'scher Walzer, op.292 [12:44]
Saat und Ernte, op.159 [2:23]
Weyprecht-Payer-Marsch, op.120 [2:55]
Mädchenlaune, op.99 [3:30]
Die Abonnenten, op.116 [8:16]
Pappacoda, op.412 [3:09]
Quadrille nach Motiven der Operette 'Der lustige Krieg', op.402 [5:04]
*Klug Gretelein, op.462 (reconstructed John Bell) [8:22]
Johann STRAUSS III (1866-1939)
Schlau-Schlau, op.6 [2:24]

CD 3

Österreichs Völker-Treue, Op. 211 (orch. Edward Peak) [2:52]
Blauäuglein, op.254 [3:03]
Schleier und Krone, op.200 [8:15]
Carl Michael ZIEHRER (1843-1922)
Casimir-Walzer, op.551 [6:58]
Die Lustigmacherin, op.4 [2:46]
Klopf' an! (Polka Française from: Die Sieben Schwaben) [3:31]
Unter den Linden, op.30 [7:45]
Nur Nicht Mucken!, op.472 (orch. Edward Peak) [3:35]
Wallonen-Marsch, op.41 [2:43]
Pauline, op.190b (2nd version) [4:03]
Zeit-Bilder, op.51 [7:47]
Philipp FAHRBACH Jnr (1843-1894)
Storchschnäbel, op.149 [2:40]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
Freiheits-Marsch, op.226 [2:40]
Der Carneval in Paris, op.100 [2:30]

Several beautifully crafted gems strewn amongst the frothier fare and everything is nicely played.