Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra – 50 Years Anniversary Concert
Josef Strauss, Johann Strauss & Johann Strauss II
Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra/Alfred Eschwé
C Major 747208 91 mins (DVD)
Although this was recorded in the opulent setting of the Musikverein, don’t expect the plushness of the Vienna Philharmonic, so familiar from the annual New Year’s Concert. The Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra was founded in 1966 to replicate the size of the original 19th-century Strauss orchestra: 40 or so musicians, giving a much leaner sound. The repertoire for their 2016 anniversary concert cleverly concentrates on pieces which benefit from a lighter touch, with a preponderance of polkas and fast dances, and only four waltzes.
Ensemble takes a while to settle in the opening Waldmeister Overture, and the Viennese lilt in the waltz sections tend to be mannered. Later on, Tales from the Vienna Woods and the Emperor Waltz benefit from a straighter approach. Though not without charm, it’s in places like this that the greater tonal and dynamic range of a larger orchestra, however inauthentic, would be an advantage. The recording doesn’t always help, and although you can hear the bloom of the Musikverein acoustic, there aren’t many spot microphones, and the sound is sometimes generalised and undetailed. Camera-work often draws attention to this: there’s not much point in having a close up of a triangle or a harp if you can barely hear them. We see quite a lot of Eschwé, who conducts from memory, beaming genially at his players, and at the audience when he leads them in the clapping in the Radetzky March at the end. He also declaims ‘…und so weiter’ (‘…and so on’) at the end of the Perpetuum mobile, and it looks, from some of the cuts between pieces, that he picked up the microphone and made an announcement for each number. A pity that these weren’t included: it would have preserved more of the atmosphere of the concert.