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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Marriage of Figaro: overture K.492 [5:16]
Yesterday [4:41]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Gaetano Pugnani [6:41]
Hello Prince! [4:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Air from Suite No.3 for Orchestra in D-Dur, BWV 1068 [6:28]
Frantisek JANOSKA
Night and Day 8:15]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Mélodie from Souvenir d'un lieu cher Op. 42 [5:24]
Frantisek JANOSKA
Leo’s Dance - Familäre Widmungen No.2 [3:28]
Penny Lane [2:49]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 15 [12:05]
Let It Be [3:47]
Janoska Ensemble
rec. 2018, Tonzauber, Studio in Kozerhaus, Vienna
DG 7725932 [63:20]

DG is fortunate to have on its books some recordings by Roby Lakatos, one of the world’s greatest violinists, irrespective of style. They have also fairly recently added Janoska to their portfolio of artists, three Slovakian-born brothers who later studied in Vienna and their colleague and cousin by marriage, double bassist Julius Darvas. Despite having Hungarian roots too, the ethos of the quartet is very different to the unbridled and unabashed Gypsy virtuosity of Lakatos and the motor of the ensemble is the pianist Frantisek Janoska, who has written large-scale symphonic music and is responsible for the arrangements here.

The results are, in gastronomic terms, rather more stollen than paprika. There are three Lennon and McCartney songs, a sprinkling of fiddling favourites (Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky and Kreisler), a piece each by Roman and František and a few others. The line-up is two violins, piano and bass, so rather different to the visceral acrobatics of Lakatos and his confrčres. The so-called ‘unique Janoska style’ that is mentioned in the booklet is hard to define. The Marriage of Figaro overture for instance plays it straight before wandering off into a mélange of styles and ethnicities including bridal and Jewish. One thing that is noticeable is František’s penchant for juxtaposing, counter-theming or otherwise infiltrating well-known classical meldoies into popular material. Thus, in Yesterday the two fiddles play the melody whilst the cello pizzicatos its way through the Prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. In Let It Be, Pachelbel’s Canon makes itself felt, albeit in a more subsidiary way, in the deftly supportive string line; I very much like this version with its romantic roulades from František, and at one or two points the inflections and side-slipping pianism even reminded me of the great Floyd Cramer. In Cole Porter’s Night and Day, the Moonlight Sonata and Porter’s imperishable melody run together and interweave before Night and Day is swung good naturedly.

Gypsy rhythms and jazzy touches, the latter especially on the piano, are part and parcel of their Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro, energetic and powerful, and there are a couple of Jazz-lite phrases on a long Bach Air from the Orchestral Suite (the Air on a G string as fiddlers of old would have put it). There’s a clever arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Mélodie, which plays it salon-straight and then reaches for some gypsy-inspired flourishes before returning to the salon embrace. Penny Lane has a galloping affection that is most enjoyable whilst Wieniawski’s Variations on an original Theme, by some way the longest track at 12-minutes, moves from virtuoso nonchalance, banjo-style pizzicati, and counterpoint, and adds a dash of swinging gypsy to the mix. Both Janoska originals are child-centred; an exciting, joyful and powerfully virtuosic Hello, Prince – in essence a kind of lassú and friss – and Leo’s Dance with its Latin hues and overdubbed laughter at the end.

So, Janoska Style: just what is it, exactly? Rather like the Viennese coffee, it’s a mélange. It’ll be too suave for some, too frivolous for others, too refined for those who prefer something earthier. Its moments of effortless virtuosity can sometimes be at odds with elements of the musical message. But I enjoy the Janoska Style. It’s spirited and generous music-making and the arrangements, if inclined to be a bit knowing in their use of classical motifs, are certainly not stale. If Lakatos is a slivovic, Janoska is more an Einspänner.

Jonathan Woolf

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