It might be thought that the Vienna Philharmonic has monopolised the music of The Strauss Family and its acolytes, and it’s true, year-in year-out, but its near-neighbours the Vienna Symphony also have fraternal instincts for this delightful and lovely music. The Wiener Symphoniker numbers among its chief conductors Sawallisch, Giulini, Rozhdestvensky, Prêtre, Frühbeck de Burgos and Fedoseyev. The present incumbent is Philippe Jordan.
The presentation for this own-label release reports “Live Recording”, but there is no trace of audience-noise during the music (even allowing that Salzburg Festival attendees are well-heeled) and no applause, and it does sound like a pristine studio job. If a playing-time of 57’40” seems mean, particularly given the volumes of Strauss Family music available, it must always be quality before quantity.
Things don’t start well though, with an overstated opening to the Overture to Johann II’s operetta, The Gypsy Baron (a welcome change to Die Fledermaus, however), and with a crude cymbal clash (to be repeated) that only cheapens the music. There follows though a beguiling clarinet solo, but throughout there are mannered touches (which are not to be confused with the rubato that Manfred Honeck writes about in the booklet). Things improve with an attractively relaxed and easeful Die Libelle (Josef) and then with the brilliantly knockabout Furioso-Polka (Johann II). There follows Eduard’s Die Biene, which includes the buzzing of the bee itself, but the very end is punched home with too much vehemence: ‘less is more’, maestro Honeck. Fifth up, Village Swallows from Austria (Josef) is pure pleasure, although the cuckoo element of the following Im Krapfenwald (a Polka-française by Johann II) is misplaced after the birdsong of the preceding waltz; and come the end of this Polka the bird really takes over!
The second half of the twelve selections begins with Johann II in hunting mode, Auf der Jagd scampering merrily, but once again Honeck looks for primary colours to off-putting effect. Two more Johann II gems follow. First, Roses from the South, which aside from a percussion onslaught between 1’01” and 1’14” (this music deserves better), is beautifully sprung and affectionate, and then Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka is brilliantly brought off. Best to pass over Josef’s Feuerfest, pulled around mercilessly by Honeck, but some good order is restored with Johann II’s Voices of Spring, given with plenty of contrasts. Finally, the Thunder and Lightning Polka suits Honeck down to the ground!
So, a swings and roundabout (Karussells und Schaukeln) collection, not quite the Vienna Philharmonic, although WS has very similar impulses in this music of course, and not competing with Carlos Kleiber, Clemens Krauss, Maazel or Mehta, for example, in terms of from-Vienna. But then my reacting to what I suggest is Honeck’s exaggeration and brashness could be someone else’s enlightenment. Oh, in case you are wondering, no, the Blue Danube Waltz is not included.