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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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa