The Strauss Family (CD review)

Willi Boskovsky, Johann Strauss Orchestra of Vienna. EMI 5 86019 2 (six-disc set).

I read somewhere that the performers in his orchestras didn’t particularly like working with conductor and violinist Willi Boskovsky, but he fashioned some of the most beautiful recordings of the Strausses ever made. First playing the violin with the Vienna Philharmonic, Boskovsky went on to lead and record the orchestra in Strauss waltzes in the 1950’s and 60’s, and audiences adored him, which in the end was all that mattered. His Decca recordings from those early years are still the yardsticks by which we must measure all Strauss waltzes. By the early 1970’s he was recording for EMI with the Johann Strauss Orchestra of Vienna, and he re-recorded much of the major Strauss repertoire for them. Then, when digital entered the scene in the 1980’s, he recorded them yet again!

What we have in this six-disc EMI box set is a collection of some seventy-nine of the Strauss family’s most famous waltzes recorded by Boskovsky with the Johann Strauss Orchestra in the 70’s (analogue) and 80’s (digital).

Personally, I find Boskovsky’s digital recordings slightly more sprightly and open than his analogue recordings with the same orchestra a decade before. Fortunately, most the recordings chosen for this collection are from the later digital group. The digital sound is a little less warm and slightly less full than the analogue sound, but it seems more detailed and carries with it no obvious digital brightness or edginess, so sonic differences among the various pieces on the six discs is practically nil. More important, all the performances are light and spontaneous, a total delight in every way, and except that the Strauss Orchestra appears to be much smaller than his old Vienna Philharmonic and miked a bit closer, they at least match the Decca renderings in spirit.

Among the waltzes are practically everything you’ve ever heard of: “The Blue Danube,” of course, “Roses from the South,” “Vienna Blood,” “Voices of Spring,” “Artist’s Life,” “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” “Emperor Waltz,” “Morning Papers,” “Accelerations,” “Lagoon Waltz,” “Du und Du,” “Wine, Women and Song,” “Danube Maiden,” and a few you might not have heard of like “Leading Article,” “Kiss Waltz,” “Watercolours,” and “Flight of Fancy.”

More important, EMI organized the music by Strauss family member, from oldest to youngest. The first disc includes several things by Strauss the elder; then there are works by the “Waltz King,” Strauss II, grouped as “Favorite Waltzes”; more “Waltzes” on discs two and three; and “Polkas” and “Overtures” on discs three, four, and five. Then on the second half of disc five and the first half of disc six, we have “Polkas” by brother Josef Strauss. And on the second half of disc six there are “Polkas” by brother Eduard Strauss. 

It’s a terrific collection of waltzes, polkas, overtures, and galops even if this box set, which EMI originally issued in 2004, may be a little hard to find anymore. Oh, and the folks at EMI have fixed one minor concern I had with a another collection of Strauss waltzes with Boskovsky. In a previous EMI set, they took “Tales from the Vienna Woods” from a session in which Boskovsky substituted a violin for the more popular zither. This time, they provided his later recording with Rudi Knabl on zither, and all is right with the world.

For fans of Strauss or Boskovsky, this is an indispensable set.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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