Lehar: Wiener Frauen, highlights (CD review)

Anke Hoffmann, soprano; Anneli Pfeffer, soprano; Peter Minich, tenor. Helmuth Froschauer, WDD Rundfunkchoir and Rundrunkorchester. CPO 999 326-2.

Hungarian composer Franz Lehar (1870-1948) is the fellow who gave Johann Strauss, Jr. a run for his money, or, if you will, succeeded the Viennese waltz king and continued on for many decades after Strauss's death. Lehar produced a number of charming operettas, the most familiar of which are probably The Merry Widow (1905), Count of Luxemburg (1909), and The Land of Smiles (1929).

What we have here, though, is Lehar's 1902 operetta debut, Wiener Frauen ("Viennese Women"), a delightfully lightweight affair that seems at any moment to be lifted by a breeze and float off into the distance. Or maybe this is simply the way Maestro Frschauer and his company perform it. I rather suspect they give it their all, and all was not quite enough to lift it to any substantial heights.

For listeners unfamiliar with the work--and that would include most of us since I'm not sure how often it's ever been recorded before, even in highlights--Wiener Frauen is typically comic and slight. It starts with a rather lengthy overture almost ten minutes long that contains the essence of the music, and much of it is quite appealing. Unfortunately, CPO do not include a libretto with this highlights disc, so you'll have to figure out what's being sung on your own. But they do include a booklet insert that lays out the general outlines of the plot. Or you can just do as I did and enjoy the delicious melodies and waltzes, many of which point toward Lehar's later music.

The sound is another matter, however. While there is nothing wrong with it per se, a digital recording made between 2003 and 2005, it doesn't really sparkle, which is a shame because the music itself certainly does. The low end could be deeper, the midrange could be more transparent, the highs could be more brilliant, and the stage imaging could be deeper. In its favor, voices are smooth and natural.

Oddly, perhaps, the disc also includes two overtures (Der Gottergatte and Wo die Lerch singt) recorded in 1971 and 1972 that sound better than the newly recorded operetta. The 1971 recording in particular has greater presence and dimensionality. I guess not everything improves with age.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa