The Strauss Family (CD review)

Waltzes and Polkas. Willi Boskovsky, Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra. EMI Masters 50999 9 18744 2 9.

According to everything I've read about Willi Boskovsky, his orchestras didn't particularly like him as a conductor. No matter. From playing violin with the Vienna Philharmonic he went to leading the orchestra in Strauss family waltzes in the 1950's and audiences adored him, which is all that counted. His Decca recordings from those early days are still the yardsticks by which many critics measure all newer Strauss recordings. By the early Seventies Boskovsky was recording for EMI with the Vienna Johann Strauss Orchestra, and he re-recorded most of the major Strauss repertoire for them. Then, when digital entered the scene, he re-recorded them yet again, many of them two more times. What we have in this 2011 EMI Masters "Great Classical Records" release is a reissue of twelve famous pieces by Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, and Eduard Strauss that Boskovsky recorded between 1971 and 1973.

Boskovsky's later digital Strauss recordings were more sprightly and open than these analogue recordings with the same orchestra, the analogue sound warmer and fuller, true, but softer and less detailed, too. These analogue performances also seem a fraction slower and less spontaneous than either his earlier Decca renditions or his later digital renderings. Not that they aren't still delightful; they just don't quite match Boskovsky's other releases.

Included among the waltzes, polkas, and overtures on the disc we get Strauss Jr.'s "Blue Danube" waltz, of course, the "Champagne Polka," the "Tales from the Vienna Woods" waltz, the "On the Hunt" polka, "A Night in Venice" overture, the "Vienna Blood" waltz, the "New Pizzicato Polka," the "Artist's Life" waltz, and the "Kaiser Waltz." Filling out the selections are brother Eduard Strauss's "On Track"; and father Strauss Sr.'s "Sigh" galop and "Radetzky March," the latter a traditional show closer.

One minor observation: The first times Boskovsky recorded "Tales from the Vienna Woods" (1963 and here in 1972), he used a real zither in the famous zither part, but in his first digital recording (1982) the conductor chose to bypass the zither and use a violin. EMI must have gotten some flack for that, and a few years later (1985) he relented and re-recorded the piece with a zither. I prefer the zither, as do most folks, I suspect, and it's good to hear it in its rightful place here.

Anyway, this latest disc presents a useful collection of Strauss music at a reasonable price. If it weren't for the fact that Boskovsky did better work and EMI and Decca offer about 800 other albums of the conductor's Strauss at a comparable price, I could be more enthusiastic about it. As it is, I'd recommend the disc only as a point of comparison alongside Boskovsky's first-choice material.


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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