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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2012
I will say at the outset that I find this disc to be an absolute delight, and it should hold no terrors for those who are not sympathetic to HIP practice. By the same token, it will not necessarily appeal to those who expect their Strauss to sound like the Decca Boskovsky recordings, where the sound is so glamourised that one is unsure whether it is the Vienna Philharmonic or Mantovani playing.
Although it can be claimed that Harnoncourt's founding of the Concentus Musicus Wien in 1953 was largely responsible for (guilty of?) the explosion of so-called authentic instrument bands, and the ever increasingly eccentric performances that emanated from them, Harnoncourt has never been the HIP Fascist that so many who came after developed into, and he has recorded Mozart and Beethoven with a modern orchestra and in later years has given us many fine recordings of the later Romantic repertoire using conventional forces.
His two New Year's Day Concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra were for me the greatest of all alongside the 1987 Karajan.
With Harnoncourt it is genuinely a desire to illustrate the nature of the music as it originally sounded, using the best Ur-texts that research can discover, and thus provide us with possibly a different insight into the music-but never at the expense of the beauty and drama, and so it is on this recording.
There is a lengthy and scholarly essay about the research that has been done, and the instrumentation used-10 different types of trumpet for example-and most importantly emphasises that there should be no snobbish disdain for so-called "light music".
The recording, made in the Musikverein by Teldex Engineers captures that warm acoustic perfectly, and the sound picture is superb, detailed without being over analytical and capturing all the fun elements-extra percussive effects-perfectly.
The orchestra sounds wonderful-rich and full for a smaller band, with ripe horns so reminiscent of the Philharmonic, plangent woodwind and strings played with vibrato when called for. Occasionally an unusual brass tone or the "thwack" of the timps reminds us that this not a modern band, but this is a genuine plus in these performances.
The title is somewhat misleading, as there is a varied selection of Waltzes, Polkas, Galops and Marches to be heard on this superb selection spread over 2 discs. The Mozart is familiar, reminding us of his impish humour, and the dances are a delight.
Harnoncourt began his first New Year Concert controversially with the Radetzky March-played in its original version by Strauss Senior, not the recomposed version by his sons that we normally here.
Here it sounds more the military march it was intended to be, rather than the rollicking crowd pleaser at the end of a concert. The Paganini homage is particularly beautiful, with beautiful string playing and sensitive effects.
The real gems are the pieces by Lanner. While these have a certain popularity in Vienna-every ball, of which there are many, opens with a Lanner piece-they are not as widely known elsewhere. I have frankly hitherto found the numbers we usually hear worthy but dull. I was therefore delighted to experience much of this music for the first time, which reveals Lanner as exciting, dynamic and full of fun effects in the same way as the Strauss family.
There is an insane 2 minute polka-Malapou-which involves the orchestra repeatedly shouting out-I know not what! I would be grateful for any enlightenment!
This is followed by the real gem-a 9 minute waltz sequence named Hexentanzwalzer-Witches Dance. It is full of eerie effects, lilting melodies and percussive effects-at one point in a later number what I take to be a stray anvil (there are a lot in Vienna) is struck repeatedly- and this rivals the great Strauss Waltz sequences and deserves much wider popularity.
The selection ends with the 2 most familiar Lanner pieces which crop up now and again in concerts sounding more enjoyable than I can ever recall.
Harnoncourt is a persuasive advocate-these numbers are "strict tempo" and he pretty well adheres to that practice, with occasional subtle rubato, but nothing drags or grates, and I have nothing but praise for the entire enterprise. The sound is most definitely Viennese, often reminiscent of the incomparable VPO, but with added transparency.
I expect to return to this disc again and again, and I hope it will leave me as it has done so far with a smile on my face and in my heart on each occasion. Totally recommended, though with the caveat that it is not Viennese Musical Wallpaper-it demands our attention and respect. 10 stars. Stewart Crowe.
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on 1 May 2016
Great colosal
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on 5 September 2012
Excellent value for money (two CDs).Strauss and Lanner as their contemporaries would have heard them in the early 1800s.Disc 1 starts with some Mozart, "setting the scene".
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on 2 June 2012
Nikolaus Harnoncourt presents us with a whole range of waltzes, not just the favourite Strauss ones, all beautifully played, but Johan Strauss II was definitely the waltz king.
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