STRAUSS family: Overture to “Die Zigeunerbaron”, Polkas and Waltzes – Wiener Symphoniker /Manfred Honeck [www.wienersymphoniker.at] WS005 [24/48 download, also available on CD] 57:35 ****:
The music of the three Strauss brothers, Johann (1825-1899), Josef (1827-1870) and Eduard (1835-1916) continues to be greatly enjoyed by millions, the annual New Year’s Concert in Vienna a highlight in all things Strauss.
Johann, known as Johann Strauss II, the eldest son of Johann Strauss I (1804-1849), was the most prolific composer of the three writing works for the stage as well as dance music, and it is the overture to one of these, The Gypsy Baron, which begins this recital by the Wiener Symphoniker under Manfred Honeck. In addition to lovely solos from oboe and clarinet, it’s Honeck’s attention to detail which impresses greatly; phrasing is lovingly and carefully considered and the piece comes across as a highly inventive work with its distinctive Hungarian flavor. Honeck, a former string player in the Vienna Philharmonic, contributes an essay to the booklet accompanying this release about the art of rubato playing, emphasizing the importance of “not too much – not too little” and the success of his thorough preparation is all too evident in the results on this recording.
Eduard Strauss, better known during his lifetime as a conductor rather than composer, is represented by a single work “Die Biene” (The Bees) with a little cadenza by Honeck, complete with buzzing. Josef Strauss, who arrived late to composing, contributes “Die Liebelle” (The Dragonfly) which always seems to me to dance while it flies and hovers, the much better-known “Dorfschwalben aus Österreich” (Village Swallows from Austria) with the orchestra imitating bird noises, and “Feuerfest!”, a polka written to order for a party to celebrate the production of 20,000 fire-proof safes by the Wertheim company.
Johann Strauss II produces the lion’s share of the works presented here, Honeck having chosen music largely inspired by the countryside, plants and animals, and the climate, the last piece being a cracking performance of “Unter Donner und Blitz” (Thunder and Lightning). Rubato is sensitively applied and comes across as entirely natural, and coupled with impressive ensemble and silky-smooth string playing, the recital ends up a highly appealing one, with its mixture of the well-known and not so well-known in an interesting combination.
Recorded live 15-17 January 2014 in the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg by Georg Burdicek and his team, there is little if any sign of an audience present, and no applause at the ends of pieces. The sound quality is excellent – the orchestra occupies a generous but not overpowering acoustic which allows the sound to expand, and the quality of the sonics belies only 48/24 resolution. It’s a pity the total playing time comes in at just under an hour; these days, that’s a trifle short. Also available on regular CD which I’ve not heard, the high resolution download is available from a number of suppliers. My copy came with an excellent booklet from highresaudio.com whose download manager is quick and efficient.
Admirers of the Strauss Family will have at least some of Clemens Krauss’s pioneering recordings for Decca (now on Preiser or Pristine Audio), Karajan from Berlin or Vienna, Fricsay’s two sparkling volumes on DGG or Horenstein on Chesky, not forgetting a substantial choice from Willi Boskovsky on Decca. Manfred Honeck’s new selection on the Wiener Symphoniker’s own label, deserves consideration with the best of these with its winning combination of careful preparation and sparkling spontaneity.
TrackList:01 Johann Strauss II: Ouvertüre zur Operette „Der Zigeunerbaron“ 02 Josef Strauss: „Die Libelle“, Polka mazur op. 204 03 Johann Strauss II: „Furioso“, Polka quasi Galopp op. 260 04 Eduard Strauss: „Die Biene“, Polka française op. 54 05 Josef Strauss: „Dorfschwalben aus Österreich“, Walzer op. 164 06 Johann Strauss II: „Im Krapfenwaldl“, Polka française op. 336 07 Johann Strauss II: „Auf der Jagd“, Polka schnell op. 373 08 Johann Strauss II: „Rosen aus dem Süden“, Walzer op. 388 09 Johann Strauss II: „Tritsch-Tratsch“, Polka schnell op. 214 10 Josef Strauss: „Feuerfest!“, Polka française op. 269 11 Johann Strauss II: „Frühlingsstimmen“, Walzer op. 410 12 Johann Strauss II: „Unter Donner und Blitz“, Polka schnell op. 324