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Viennafest
Erich Kunzel
DSD (Direct Stream Digital)
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Viennafest

By Karl Lozier
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Compact Disc Compact Disc Stock Number: Telarc CD 80547 Compact Disc

  This compilation album of sixteen separate selections revolves around the Strauss "family", mainly Johann Jr. with seven of them. Best known of his entrees are the overtures to Die Fledermaus and The Gypsy Baron. His Voices of Spring Waltzes features the soprano Tracy Dahl very will recorded and in fine voice here. I do not know if she is a highly regarded "Strauss interpreter" or not, but she meets with my approval.


Johann Strauss Sr.'s sole contribution is his justly famous Radetzky March. Some writers claim that only The Blue Danube is more beloved by the Viennese people. It is always the final encore of the Vienna Philharmonic's traditional New Year's concert. As I'm sure you remember from your intense interest and memory of your world history classes some years ago, the March was written in honor of the Habsburg army's victory led by Count Joseph Radetzky von Radetz over the Italian forces at Custizza. Didn't my mention of that fact really jog your memory? I bet that you're going to pick up one of your old history books and relive the incident the moment you finish this review article. A couple of selections, I not only never heard of, but found no mention of in old Penguin Guide books or in my collection. Willi Boskovsky probably recorded all of them at some point in time though. I truly would have bet otherwise, but I was unable to find a performance of this March in my collection, not even by The Boston Pops! 


Franz Lehar is represented with his well-known Gold and Silver Waltzes and a waltz from the famous The Merry Widow. Both are very well performed and beautifully recorded here. Even if you're not into Viennese music, the beautiful romantic melodies of these selections will make you realize you've heard them previously. The general atmosphere of these two should make most any music lover satisfied, while lowering their blood pressure by at least five points.


Kalman's overture to Countess Martza, Lanner's Court Ball Waltz and Oscar Straus's Waltz Dreams all sound rather idiomatic to me, but I'm not familiar with them. Don't bother asking me what happened to the second 's' in Oscar's last name: if I ever find out, I'll try to remember to mention it in the future. Anyone out there in Internet land know? He is an Austrian born, French composer well known for the Chocolate Soldier. This was a popular musical on Broadway many, many years and had a revival just many years ago. And, no I don't know what that chocolate soldier precisely refers to. Angus MacPherson, local bona fide fount of theater knowledge, responded with a hazy recollection of a soldier being hidden somewhere and for some forgotten reason, having to subsist mainly on chocolate.


Stolz's Two Hearts in Three Quarter Time written around 1930 was possibly his most successful composition and I believe his first for movies. About ten years later he wound up in Hollywood and received Oscar nominations in 1941 and 1945. He returned to Europe after WWll and continued to compose, conduct and record until he was ninety-four years old. This beautiful, melodic waltz is still a staple of Viennese repertory. After a tough day at the office and fighting traffic it's a relaxer.


The album's final selection is Sieczynski's Vienna, City of My Dreams. It is often claimed to capture the city's allure and sensuality as well as or better than any other composition. High praise indeed for a composer known as the counterpart of the full-dress society dances staged by the Strauss composers. Sieczynski's compositions were mainly so-called Viennese café' music. These groups started with a couple of violinists and a guitarist. Later these trios added clarinet and accordion.


As I listened, listened some more and listened once again to this album, I realized that it had been a long time since I had listened to a "typical" Strauss or Viennese recording, far too long. During my background research for this review, in some of my old Penguin Guides to Records and Cassettes, I ran across a couple of very flattering reviews of Robert Stolz conducting a series of these albums entitled Vienna in Waltztime. Yes, the same Robert Stolz, composer of the music I mentioned above! Also, his recordings of the complete Gypsy Baron and Die Fledermaus received rave reviews. I found an unexpectedly large number of conductors receiving praise for many of their performances, particularly conductors whose last name started with the letter "B". Barbirolli, Bernstein, Boehm, Bonynge and the justly renowned Willie Boskovsky. Later Penguin Guides listed far fewer Strauss/Viennese albums. Along with others, Dorati and Fiedler got mentioned and Von Karajan and Maazel got outstanding ratings for their brilliant performances of the Radetzky March. Note to newcomers to classical music: do not confuse this march with the equally famous Rakoczy March, the orchestration of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 by Franz Liszt which is a bit more of an orchestral showpiece. Same comments go for Berlioz's Rakoczy March from his The Damnation of Faust. I was unable to locate my Boskovsky albums (LP's) but readily found a number containing the overtures. Using just the overture to Die Fledermaus for comparison, both Bonynge and Von Karajan interpretations are more exciting than Kunzel's. By comparison Kunzel's is a more relaxed reading and Telarc's recording is perfectly in sync with it. The Penguin Guide stated that Karajan's recording leaves nothing to be desired. Now, decades later, I'd describe it as very forward and bright sounding. It may be so simple that the recording needed to be hyped to compensate for the limitations of home playback systems of three decades ago. In any event, it certainly highlights details showing off the Vienna Philharmonics razor sharp precision. The "attack" of the violins, honed to perfection by Von Karajan, is almost beyond comparison. My three disk set is the original "Gala Performance" and was superseded without the gala as English Decca 5XL 6015/6 or London 1249. Both versions are findable at garage sales or used record stores. The particular Bonynge version I used is a much tougher find. It was made in Japan in 1980 as London Stereophonic K15C-5010. I believe it is a remastering or repressing of English Decca SXL 6701 or London 6896. This recording's soundscape couldn't be much more different than Karajan's. The apparent depth on Bonynge's version is greatly exaggerated but overall the fidelity is quite excellent by even current standards with particularly fine bass reproduced. The interpretation here is not quite as sparking and effervescent as Karajan's, but still a bit more so than Kunzel's. Which is the more idiomatic rendition? I don't know for sure; I suspect Von Karajan's. No matter, Kunzel's approach is consistent with the rest of this Telarc album. I recommend this recording; it is particularly well suited as an introduction to Strauss and Viennese music. It has overtures, a march, polkas, waltzes and a bit more. There are no obvious faults to the recording and not a hint of "spotlighting". In general this album sounds as if the microphones were moved a couple of feet further away from the orchestra than usual for even Telarc's recent recordings. The audio soundscape is consistent with a hall seat somewhere between rows N and T, center section.


As usual Robert Wood is the producer and this time Jack Renner is the recording engineer. Michael Bishop has somehow snuck in again, much less often than usual and rather subtle for him. I would have guessed some typical "city sound effects" on the last track, Vienna, City of My Dreams. Instead, he snuck into the middle of the album by punctuating a so-called fast polka by J. Strauss Jr. and one by Eduard Strauss. Both will at least bring a smile to your face if not a full-blown chuckle. You will have the volume turned up when you play those two selections for guest listeners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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