COMPOSERS: E Strauss & Josef Strauss,J Strauss I & II
LABELS: Black Box
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Strauss Album
PERFORMER: Johann Strauss Orchestra/Christopher Warren-Green
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 1059
Harnoncourt is no stranger to Strauss – he was an orchestral musician in Vienna for many years, and he’s conducted recordings of orchestral music and The Gypsy Baron as notable for scholarship as style. And scholarship creeps into his New Year programme, beginning with the original version of the Radetzky March (no hand clapping here), and taking in two pieces by Lanner, which just happen to be the ones that Stravinsky quotes in Petrushka. But there’s an authentic Viennese schwung to the waltzes, with some especially caressing strings in Seid umschlungen, Millionen: obviously a Harnoncourt favourite. On the whole though, it’s more strong black coffee than whipped cream, with none of that all-purpose schmaltz that’s often laid on so thickly. The three encores encapsulate Harnoncourt’s strengths: fleet energy in the fast polka Ohne Sorgen, impeccable timing in The Blue Danube and tight rhythmic control in the Radetzky March, complete with clapping this time.
In Cincinnati, Erich Kunzel doesn’t have the luxury of the Viennese strings, and is heavy on sound effects in pieces like the Huntsman and Nightingale Polkas. He barely attempts to give schwung to the waltzes – it can be horribly artificial if it’s not exactly right – but he does give us the vocal version of Frühlingsstimmen, with sweet-toned coloratura from Tracy Dahl. The problem is that it all sounds like a Hollywood soundtrack of Vienna, rather than the city itself.
Better that than Christopher Warren-Green’s politeness, which, together with a small orchestra, gives the whole thing the air of a tea-dance at the Hammersmith Palais. A pity, because the programme is a good mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar, with a first recording of Eduard Strauss’s Innig und Sinnig. But compare the flow of the Danube in Warren-Green’s hands and Harnoncourt’s, and there’s no contest. Martin Cotton