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Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)
Waltzes, Polkas and Overtures
Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka, op.214 (1858) [2:48]
Die Fledermaus - Overture (1873) [8:28]
Csárdás (from: Die Fledermaus) (1873) [4:42]
Nordseebilder-Walzer, op.390 (1879) [9:25]
Im Sturmschritt - Polka Schnell, op.348 (1871) [2:17]
Neue Pizzicato-Polka, op.449 (1892) [2:56]
Perpetuum Mobile - ein Musikalischer Scherz (revised version), op.257ii (1881) [2:51]
Frühlingsstimmen-Walzer, op.410 (1883) [6:42]
Der Zigeunerbaron - Overture (1884) [8:07]
An der Schönen Blauen Donau - Walzer, op.314 (1866) [10:53]
Egyptischer Marsch, op.335 (1869) [5:11]
Éljen a Magyar! - Schnell-Polka, op.332 (1869) [2:52]
Furioso Polka, Quasi Galopp, op.260 (1861) [2:34]
Anima Eterna Brugge/Jos van Immerseel
rec. L'Arsenal, Metz, France, September 1999. DDD
OUTHERE REWIND REW505 [59:35]

There are already countless recordings of Johann Strauss to suit all tastes; even those with very little are well catered for, as the current phenomenal success of André Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra testifies. Historically informed performances like these, from Belgium's excellent Anima Eterna under Jos van Immerseel, are much rarer. With over 25 years experience together, Immerseel and his ensemble are better known for more 'serious' repertoire, like their numerous period-instrument recordings for ZigZag of French composers, such as Debussy (ZZT313), Poulenc (ZZT110403), Berlioz (ZZT100101) or Ravel (ZZT060901). This is not to forget their core Austro-German repertory, such as complete symphony cycles of Beethoven (ZZT0804026) and Schubert (ZZT308) and numerous discs of Haydn and Mozart. By coincidence, incidentally, ZigZag (actually part of the Outhere stable) have just released a 6-CD box set of a selection of those Mozart recordings, including several of the violin sonatas where Immerseel is pianist. 

Immerseel does not hold with the common prejudice against Johann Strauss's music, a perception only aggravated by the candy-floss/hum-along renditions of André Rieu. Brahms, Richard Strauss and Schoenberg all held Strauss's music in high regard, and whilst it would be wrong to ascribe any great profundity to it, it is also reasonable to argue that subsequent snobbishness is based on 20th-century interpretation, itself arising from the misrepresentation of Strauss by various publishers. A perusal of a random selection of the massive available discography confirms this: a morass of turgid, syrupy renditions that pay little heed to Strauss's original ideals or even scores.
 
For this recording Anima Eterna makes use of a recent critical edition of the composer's works published by Bärenreiter. The resultant sound, whilst obviously still retaining Strauss's inherent terpsichorean mellifluousness, has less of the Photoshopped Viennese cake-emporium about it. Immerseel instead comes up with a more low-fat, raw-ingredient recipe - most significantly a reduced string section - that allows the individual flavours to be savoured. This is self-evident in the csárdás from Die Fledermaus, with its genuine Hungarian folk-coloured introduction and ending. It can also be heard in the heightened atmospherics of the Egyptian March, which, if it came from many another's pen, would surely feature regularly on more serious bills.
 
The programme would need the Emperor Waltz and Vienna Blood at least to be considered a 'best of' selection, but the several works that will be familiar to most listeners - the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, Frühlingsstimmen ('Voices of Spring') and especially the Blue Danube waltz and Fledermaus overture - all come across as fresh and vivid, rather than the knackered warhorses the New Year's Day concert at Vienna threatens to turn them into. The Perpetuum Mobile and Furioso Polka can be heard for what they are - models for the next generation of 'light music' classics by Eric Coates, Ronald Binge, Vivian Ellis and others.
 
No one can accuse Outhere, incidentally, of not making an effort to sell this recording: the present disc was released previously on ZigZag in 2006 and 2002, each time with a different cover. Aside from the sheer quality of the music-making, the audio is very good - a recorded sound from fourteen years ago that knocks spots off many recent releases. Engineering as it should be! The French-English booklet notes are also valuable, giving not just Immerseel's account of the development of this Strauss project, and a description of the origins of the individual works, but an interesting discussion of the facts and fiction of nineteenth century dance music by Edith Lalonger and Patrick Nollio, dancers with whom Immerseel collaborated to get the rhythms of Strauss's music as authentic as possible.
 
In sum, this is one of the finest recordings of Johann Strauss ever made, a worthy tribute to a superb melodist and an inspired orchestrator.
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 

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