THE STRAUSS DYNASTY (Johann I and II, Josef, Eduard): 86 Waltzes, Polkas & Marches
Vienna Philharmonic, Willi Boskovsky/cond.
London 455 254 (6 CDs) [B/M] [ADD]  TT: 74:21, 73:24, 73:22, 73:06, 75:31,75:15
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Over a period of 18 years, from 1958 through  1976, London recorded the 86 works remastered on these CDs, either in the Vienna's Grosser Musikvereinsaal or in the Sofiensaal, under various producers. If some of the earliest examples sound a bit thinner than the best preserved here, nothing is sonically negligible or gimmicky, which is amazing to say the least. European Decca (called London stateside, because there was already a U.S. Decca that specialized in 10-inch, 78-rpm discs of pop repertory) began their legacy of Strauss by the Vienna Philharmonic with several elegant, postwar monodiscs that Clemens Krauss (1890-1954) conducted inimitably. These were made in conjunction with New Year's concerts that he established during the World War Two, to buoy sagging spirits in the former-Habsburg capital, inhabited since 1938 by Hitler's legions which promptly unfurled a 9-storey Nazi flag from the roof of their headquarters in the Hotel Imperial.

That January 1st Philharmonic tradition continues today on worldwide television (PBS in this country) with lots of frou-frou---ballets, travelogs, the world's kitschiest stage dÈcor---plus commentary by Walter Kronkeit, who stubbornly mispronounces "Johann" with a midwestern long-A (it's "yo-hahn," dammit!). After Krauss' death in Mexico City---on tour, not in exile despite of his coziness with the Nazis---New Year's concerts were assigned to Willi Boskovsky, the orchestra's long-time concertmaster, who proved remarkably adept. He shouldn't be judged by those seedy American tours with a "Johann Strauss Orchestra" that was not, palpably not, the Vienna Phil, when he was often in his cups. Over the years, VPO/Boskovsky recordings of music familiar and otherwise by the three principal Strausses (J, J, and J) came out on stereo LPs, and later were reissued piecemeal on CDs, at budget prices, but never all of them. I can't swear that everything they did together is included on these six disks, packaged with a fine program essay about the family, plus Eduard Hanslick's moving tribute following the death of Johann Jr. If my favorite Strauss-Dynasty works were written by the short-lived Josef (1827-70), this remastered collection has all the favorite pieces by both Johanns, father and son, as well as 24 by Josef. The style is echt-Wienerisch, whether or not other conductors have, in this piece or that, charmed us more.

Marco Polo has completed recording everything by Johann Jr., and is now doing the same for Josef, despite the fact that not everything is a Blue Danube or Emperor or Village Swallows from Austria or Die Libelle---this last-named a "Polka-Mazurka" by Josef, and as subtly sensual as any music from Central Europe after Mozart. But Marco Polo discs don't having playing of Vienna Philharmonic caliber, nor are its conductors of Boskovsky caliber, much less Krauss, or the Kleibers father and son, or Karajan (a superb Straussian), und so weiter as the Viennese say. Buy this collection and you're not likely to buy another. The current crop of Neue Jahr conductors (including Mehta, Maazel, and Abbado) haven't tradition in their blood, or that singular Viennese mixture of sugared charm, malice, schlagobers, schnitzel, anti-semitism, and a self-regard second only (perhaps) to the Japanese.

R.D.