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Josef GUNG’L (1809/10-1889)
Durch dick und dünn Galop Op. 289 [2:04]
Träume auf dem Ozean Waltz Op. 80 [9:50]
Elbröschen Polka Op. 207 [3:17]
Perpetuum mobile Op. 317 [3:42]
Amorettentänze Waltz Op. 161 [8:55]
Najaden-Quadrille Op. 264 [3:58]
Klänge aus der Heimat Oberländler Op. 31 [3:36]
Franz-Joseph-Marsch Op. 142 [2:27]
Zsámbéki-Csárdás Op. 163 [4:13]
Berliner-Concerthaus Polka Op. 269 [3:04]
Siehst du wohl? Galop Op. 319 [2:47]
Eisenbahn-Dampf Galop Op. 5 [3:03]
Die Hydropathen Waltz Op. 149 [8:13]
Gedenke mein Polka Mazurka Op. 241 [3:44]
Narren Galop Op. 182 [2:32]
Nürnberger Symphoniker/Christian Simonis
rec. Stadthalle Fürth, 28-29 April 2010
CPO 777 582-2 [66:27]

Devotees of shops selling secondhand printed music will frequently find thick and well-used volumes of dance music by Gung’l. Trying them on the piano will reveal pleasant tunes but is seldom likely to suggest that this was a composer worth exploring further. Listening to this fascinating and enjoyable disc shows how wrong that view is. The tunes are indeed pleasant, but the mastery of the orchestra, ingenious rhythmic changes within the dance framework, and the variety of dance forms used all indicate a composer who deserves an honoured place, albeit in the second rank, of nineteenth century dance musicians.
Josef Gung’l was Hungarian by birth. He started his musical career playing in military bands before becoming a bandmaster. After leaving the army in 1841 he led a civilian band playing mainly dance music. He worked mainly in Berlin but toured widely, including the United States, St Petersburg and Vienna. As the opus numbers above suggest his output was large and it must have been a daunting task choosing a suitable selection for this disc. Wisely, although Gung’l was known especially for his waltzes, there are only three here, thus avoiding the risk of monotony to which too many Johann Strauss discs succumb. They are nonetheless the highlights here, especially in their introductions. That to Träume auf dem Ozean is particularly imaginative, beautifully scored, especially for the woodwind and brass. Within the waltzes little counter-melodies and ingenious rhythmic changes prevent the monotony which can arise from long sections of three-four. Christian Simonis takes the brave, and to my mind wholly correct, decision to make little variation of speed within each waltz. When music is written specifically for dancing such variations, however “effective” they may be, are in essence imposed from outside the music and hide the more subtle variations that are implicit within it. The performances throughout the disc are convincing and enjoyable.
The remaining items comprise a selection of galops, polkas, marches and so on. There is a railway imitation and two galops in which the orchestra are required to sing, as well as a Perpetuum mobile on the same lines as the better known example by Johann Strauss giving solos to each section of the orchestra in turn. It has to be admitted that in the items included here Gung’l seldom matches the melodically memorable as found in the best of Strauss but he is more than able to match the quality of the latter’s lesser work.
Overall this is a disc with much appeal to anyone interested in nineteenth century dance music. The recording is good as are the notes, although it would have been good to have more information about the particular pieces included here as well as about the composer’s work as a whole. Very little of his music is available on disc so that my sole regret it that this disc is not labelled as “Volume 1”; it deserves to be followed by many more.
John Sheppard