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The ideal collection of Strauss in the Viennese style led by the supreme Boskovsky
on 3 December 2012
This is a wonderful collection and is not only invaluable for its completeness but also for the unique window into the performing style of the considerable Boskovsky era. The whole set of six discs covering 86 pieces of music used to be available separately and that is how I owned them and also played them spread across many months each year. However, I have recently bought the box set hoping that the discs will have been re-mastered even though there is no mention of that on the discs or within the sparse paperwork.
Firstly, I can report that by carefully comparing the older discs with the ones in this box set, there is evidence of remastering with greater depth, more realism and more impact to the sound.
Secondly, by listening through all six discs in quick succession to check that they were faultless, and they were, it became very striking how very different Boskovsky's concept of the music and its performance was compared to any of the New Year's Day broadcasts that we hear today. I can say this with some certainty having collected all the DVD/Blu-ray discs of those concerts each year as they have been produced.
Essentially what Boskovsky delivered in the 1960's and 1970's were discs of dance music. What we hear today are concert performances of the same music but therefore crucially different in feel. Boskovsky's performances are in much stricter time with tighter control of internal rhythm. Most pieces are also played slightly faster, more incisively and with far less indulgence of incidental phrasing. Instrumental detail is also brought out more tellingly. In short, we are reminded forcibly that Strauss originally wrote this music for 'live' dancing and for dancing that was both lively and vibrant. Modern performances, sophisticated and enjoyable though they may be, have lost this to a very large extent by being performed in concert halls.
To echo the sentiments of one other reviewer, by buying this set there becomes no further need to purchase others. I would modify that assessment as follows: The DVD / Blu-ray presentations of the New Year's Day concerts are a viable additional purchase option as they simply deliver a very enjoyable but essentially different product as explained above. There are two outstandingly fine single disc selections available to supplement the Boskovsky set - one by the Boston pops under Fiedler in the RCA Living Stereo collection and the other being Immerseel's selection played on period instruments and with a strong awareness of the need for the music to 'dance.'
I would therefore suggest that, for most purposes, this six disc set by Boskovsky provides both the first and the last word on a comprehensive collection of Strauss played as proper dance music as originally intended. This set also seems to offer fine re-mastered sound. The sleeve notes are minimal and do not begin to match those of the original single discs but that is a small price to pay bearing in mind all the other advantages of owning this set.
My earlier review for disc 5 in this series says everything else I would wish to say about the whole set and is copied immediately below for further reference:
This selection on disc 5, recorded from 1961-76, is typical of each of the 6 separately issued discs incorporating Boskovsky's comprehensive coverage of the Strauss family Viennese repertoire. There is a selection of mostly waltzes and polkas presented plus a lone march and these are all played with panache by the VPO under Boskovsky's benign leadership / direction. The width of the recording dates is well hidden in so far as one is more aware of the evenness of the presentation rather than of any imperfections in the sound.
What one is most aware of is the unique hold that Boskovsky consistently demonstrates over the style of the repertoire. In this he is fully supported by his colleagues in the VPO who succeed in preserving an approach to stylistically playing this music that is gradually becoming a bit more distant with each passing year. Performances may be immaculately well prepared and played as each year goes by but the musical tradition as illustrated by Boskovsky and his VPO partners is an invaluable historical document and one that we should always be grateful to Decca for who captured the sound and the atmosphere so very well. Above all, one is struck by the sheer happiness and the brio of the performances recalling the smiles of pleasure from Boskovsky and the orchestra and as seen on the early New Year's Day television broadcasts.
This disc should remain available as a necessary reference point for all those interested in the music of the Strauss family and the Viennese tradition. This disc is to be warmly welcomed therefore along with its companions which, it must be added, are even more usefully available now as a complete boxed set.