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Available from Qobuz (mp3 and lossless) or iTunes  (mp3).

Hans Christian LUMBYE (1810-1874)
Dream Pictures, Fantasia (1846) [8:35]
Queen Louise Waltz (1868) [4:28]
Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop (1847) [3:43]
Salute for August Bournonville (1869) [1:50]
Columbine Polka-Mazurka (1862) [3:36]
Amelie Waltz (1846) [8:08]
Britta Polka (1864) [2:11]
Champagne Galop (1845) [2:05]
Copenhagen Symphony Orchestra/Lavard Friisholm – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Graduation Ball, Ballet (arr. Antal Doráti) [37:14]
New Symphony Orchestra of London/Anatole Fistoulari – rec. 1953 ADD/mono
BEULAH 1PDR36 [71:50]

I’m writing this on New Year’s Day, fresh from enjoying hearing Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, so the appropriateness of the Strauss confection will be obvious.  As usual, the music of the Strauss family was augmented, this year with music by Lehár, Nicolai, Suppé, Waldteufel and Ziehrer, but the music of Danish composer Lumbye, known as the Strauss of the North, is equally appropriate to accompany that of Johann Strauss II.

The opening Dream Pictures is actually more reminiscent of the more thoughtful music of Johann’s younger brother Josef, whom I was pleased to see represented in the New Year concert by two works, one of which, Die Nasswalderin Polka, I don’t recall having heard before.  There are only two previous recordings, on Marco Polo and RCA, both download only, a sad reflection of the neglect of Josef whom I’m not alone in thinking the most talented member of the family.

Track 3 of the Beulah album contains the best-known of Lumbye’s works, the very enjoyable Københavns Jernbanedamp Galop (the Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop), a journey on which, though it then ran for only a few miles, was an event.  It was included in the 2012 New Year concert, with Mariss Jansons presiding and it’s available on Volume 1 of the Marco Polo complete edition (8.223743 download only) and on a Naxos selection The Best of Lumbye chosen from the series (8.556843: Bargain of the Month – review review).  That collection of goodies performed by the descendants of Lumbye’s own Tivoli Orchestra remains my recommendation for a single-CD introduction to this under-rated composer, though I must issue the customary warning that hearing it could lead to desiring the eleven Marco Polo CDs from which it comes, five of which can be downloaded from eclassical.com.

The Marco Polo performances in general just have the edge over those on Beulah, with a slightly greater sense of fun and, of course, more modern recording.  As all the items on Beulah are common to both collections, that might seem to rule out the Beulah but I enjoyed hearing these alternative performances, which make up in elegance what they slightly lack in fizz.  It isn’t wholly a one-way choice, either: Dream Pictures and several other pieces actually receive a slightly more sprightly performance on Beulah and the transfer of what seems to have been a good 1960 original on the Odéon label is admirable. 

I don’t know of any other recordings which Lavard Friisholm made – NB not Frisholm, as per the Beulah cover – and on the basis of these performances that’s a shame.  From the slender information available in Danish on Wikipedia he was a violinist as well as a conductor, so it’s not surprising that the result reminds me of Willi Boskovsky in his heyday at the helm of the Vienna Phil.

I imagine that most prospective purchasers will be primarily interested in Graduation Ball, here presented in its entirety despite Beulah’s description of it as a ‘Ballet Suite’.  Doráti’s own performance with the Minneapolis SO remains available on Mercury (2-CD set from Presto only or download) but the Fistoulari recording makes a very viable and more complete alternative, otherwise available only on a 2-CD Decca Eloquence set – review – or as part of a bumper 53-CD box.

Though the Fistoulari recording is in mono only, I truthfully hardly noticed the transition from 1960 stereo to 1953* mono, so full is the sound and so good the transfer.  There’s a touch of overload occasionally, as at the climax of track 12, probably the end of an LP side**, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of these very sprightly performances.  Sprightly but not too sprightly: comparing this recording in 1957 with faster performances by Joseph Levine, Trevor Harvey made the typically acute observation that Fistoulari’s was ‘Strauss as Strauss is performed in Vienna’.  Exactly so.  And lest it be thought that the music sounds better in its original form, only Perpetuum Mobile exists apart from Graduation Ball: the other music was taken from unpublished works in the Vienna State Opera library.

Doráti’s own Minneapolis recording is the classic choice but he cuts the music to fit one LP side and takes what’s left even faster than Levine – 26:31 against Fistoulari’s 37:41 – and while that’s exciting to listen to once, as I did via Qobuz, and benefits from Mercury’s renowned recording quality – actually a tad shrill in the transfer – it’s Fistoulari that wins the day for me.  Even on his later (1976) recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca Eloquence) Doráti is faster than Fistoulari and less stylish, despite John Philips’s endorsement in his review of the CD reissue.

All in all I found this an enjoyable follow-up to the New Year’s Day concert but it’s equally recommendable for any day of the year.  I recommend the Qobuz download in preference to any other: it offers lossless sound for the same price as others who offer only mp3, often at less than the full bit-rate.

* Beulah give 1954 as the recording date but the LP (LXT2848) was released in 1953.

** There’s an extremely inexpensive transfer of Fistoulari’s Graduation Ball on the BnF label, available to download for a mere £1.39, but the transfer, though decent, is no match for the Beulah.  The BnF transcription of Willi Boskovsky’s 1961 stereo recording with the VPO, and with very similar tempi to Fistoulari, is worth streaming or downloading for the same price from Qobuz.

Brian Wilson

 




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