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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Meet the Staff

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 more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa