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A Musical Journey Across Austria
Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra/Johannes Wildner
rec. 2019 (?), Golden Hall of the Musikverein, Vienna
Picture: High Definition mastered from an HD source
Picture format: 16:9
Sound formats: PCM stereo; DTS-HD MA 5.1
Region code: A / B / C
C MAJOR 753104 Blu-ray [87:00]

Although, as I write this, the UK remains in full corona-virus lockdown, it appears that in the past week Austria has begun relaxing its own restrictions by re-opening small shops, garden centres and DIY outlets. Unfortunately, those newly accessible mini-marts and the renewed availability of potted plants and power tools may not be enough, on their own, to boost the country’s tourism revenues this year. That will no doubt be a major disappointment to the Austrian National Tourist Board which, while it doesn’t seem to have been involved in the production of this film, would certainly have considered it a useful marketing tool.

It’s a rather unusual hybrid – part classical concert from Vienna’s Musikverein and part promotional vehicle for some of the country’s most beautiful attractions. Throughout the musical selections – and sometimes on the flimsiest of supposed pretexts – we cut away to some expertly crafted pieces of film, showcasing, among others, the wetlands of Lake Neusiedl, Burgenland, with its abundant wildfowl; the Austrian mountains where we find a rally of colourful motor vehicles in progress; the lakes, woodland glades and pathways of Vienna and Lower Austria; the varied Imperial, art nouveau and even – though kept well in the far distance - starkly modern architecture of Vienna itself; the Wurstelprater amusement park; the Green Prater’s beautiful parkland; the finely-manicured lawns and the statuary of the capital’s pleasure gardens near the Ringstrasse; the alps of Upper Austria and the Tyrol; some of the country’s most impressive castles and monasteries; the Schönbrunn Palace, the Vienna residence of the Habsburg emperors; the – rarely blue - river Danube; the Semmering railway of Lower Austria and Styria; and the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, Vienna, where the concert itself is being given.

At the film’s opening, our host, the orchestra’s conductor Johannes Wildner, promises us – in German, though the English subtitles throughout are generally fine - that he will be taking us on “a musical journey with the Strauss family. You will discover Austria, learn interesting stories about Strauss family members and, above all, you will listen to their marvellous music.” For my part, the most interesting thing I discovered about the Strausses was how they regarded their music as a family commercial business. Josef Strauss, for instance, may have really wanted to spend his life as an engineer (he devised, we’re informed, the principle of the road sweeper using a rotary brush that’s still in use today); nevertheless, at the drop of a hat he obeyed his brother Johann II’s summonses, whether to conduct a concert at short notice or to help his overburdened sibling out by contributing long-distance to the famous pizzicato-polka.

Apart from family anecdotes and gorgeous drone shots of beautiful Austrian locations, what of the music? There’s certainly a good mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. As well as foot-tapping along to that pizzicato-polka, you’ll be swaying to waltzes like Wiener Blut and The blue Danube and, inevitably, hand-clapping along with the audience to the concluding rendition of the Radetzky march. On the less predictable front, two pieces by Josef Strauss are claimed to be first Austrian performances and world premiere recordings; while the Allegro fantastique, a fantasy with overtones of the supernatural, is pleasantly diverting but somewhat less than memorable, Heart’s sorrow is a revelation – a lovely, gentle piece that certainly deserves to be heard more often. An unexpected highlight is the unpromisingly-titled The sighs of the Liguorian monks, a rather jolly number (Johann II didn’t, it seems, care much for monks) featuring bells, bird-whistles and rattles as well as vocal contributions from the bemused orchestral players. In fact, the Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra delivers every piece with enthusiasm, skill and idiomatic aplomb, while Johannes Wildner makes his own enjoyable contributions, whether as genial story-teller and guide, conductor or, at one or two points, solo violinist.

While I can’t envisage watching this well-engineered Blu-ray disc again in the immediate future, it certainly offered 90 minutes of enjoyable music-making to help while away my corona-virus lockdown. It might even persuade me to use the vouchers that I’ve received in lieu of a cancelled holiday to pay for a trip next year to Austria.

Rob Maynard

Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
The gypsy baron, operetta (1885) – overture [7:05]
Eduard STRAUSS I (1835-1816)
Brakes off, quick polka op. 238 (1885) [2:31]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Heart’s sorrow, orchestral fantasy (1862)* [5:14]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Vienna blood, waltz op. 354 (1873) [8:52]
Thunder and lightning, quick polka op. 324 (1868) [2:49]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Allegro fantastique, orchestral fantasy (1862)* [4:43]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
The sighs of the Liguorian monks, playful polka op. 57 (1848) [4:17]
Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Mysterious powers of the attraction (Dynamiden), waltz op. 173 (1865) [9:07]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Knight Pasman, opera op. 441 (1892) – czardas [4:37]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) and Josef STRAUSS (1827-1870)
Pizzicato polka (1869) [2:30]
Eduard STRAUSS I (1835-1816)
Who’ll join the dance?, quick polka op. 251 (1886) [1:58]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
The blue Danube, waltz op. 314 1867) [9:26]
Niko-polka, quick polka op. 228 (1859) [3:16]
Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849)
Radetzky march, op. 228 [3:00]

* Austrian first performance and world premiere recording

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