Johann Strauss II–Best waltzes and performers (vol. 4) Part 1

johann-strauss-the-younger-austrian-musician

(Link to vol. 1 – please click here) (opus 1- 199)

(Link to vol. 2 – please click here) (opus 200 – 299)

(Link to vol. 3 part 1 – please click here) (opus 300 – 350)

(Link to vol. 3 part 2 – please click here) (opus 351 – 399)

We are now entering into the twilight of Johann Strauss II’s career, and his life as well. With one more part 2 to go, this selection would be from opus 400 – 438 so that there would be sufficient material to be created. After that, well – I might create a volume just for the polkas and marches but we’ll see.

(1) Kuss-Walzer, (“Kiss Waltz”) op. 400

der kuss (klimt)

I’ve always considered the Kuss-Walzer a very lovely waltz. The operetta “Der Lustige Krieg” (The Merry War) is largely forgotten in this age and time but we are fortunate that a piece worthy of mention had emanated from its melodies. I’m not entirely approving of Strauss freely culling music from his operettas but posterity had somewhat redeemed this practice – we do not need to buy entire volumes of CDs featuring his operettas just to listen out for a handful of the lovelier tunes in the stage works.

If memory serves, this is the only waltz which had its alluringly charming Waltz 1A repeated at the end of almost every entire waltz section. It won’t really be a distraction – the pensive melody is one of Strauss’ best waltz parts that it does strangely fit in quite well with the rest of the piece. Waltz 3A and 3B are particularly recommended as well.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to this work – Oliver Dohnányi’s interpretation with the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice) is reasonably good. Robert Stolz’s direction of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra on the ‘Wiener Musik’ vol. 7 album is also recommended. The most sweet-sounding is probably Franz Welser-Möst leading the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the New Year’s Concert 2013 – the Waltz 1A is lovingly handled with care and finesse. If you are stickler for complete performances, though, this version may not be to your liking.

(2) Frühlingstimmen (“Voices of Spring”) op. 410

monet - orchard in spring

If I had to choose, this piece is probably one of Strauss’ most original of waltzes – freely evocative in spirit (replete with birdsong and a pastoral scene) yet never becoming too wild and boisterous as some of his earlier pieces tend to descend into. The Waltz 1A is also one of his finest – crafted with just the right mix of good-humor and gaiety – and it’s quite memorable even if you’re listening to it for the first time. It’s highly recommended for classical music enthusiasts who wish to learn more of Johann Strauss II’s music without the need to go for some coffee and cake to enjoy the melodies.

Without a proper Introduction, of course, and a very short Coda, this piece is one of Strauss’ shortest and which clocks in at 6 – 7 minutes at the most. Anything less than that (hint: Willi Boskovsky) and more than that (haven’t encountered before) would not cut it. With that in mind – I’d recommend Wiener Volksoper Orchester’s version clocking in at 7 minutes for you to head for. There’s a slightly shorter version played by the same ensemble and it also sounded fine. There are some online versions which features the vocal parts as well and they are of course, in the form that was originally conceived by Johann Strauss.

(3) Lagunen (“Lagoon”) Walzer, op. 411

canaletto - il ritorno del bucintoro nel molo il giorno dell'ascenscione

This is another waltz which owes its origins to the operetta “Eine Nacht in Venedig” (A Night in Venice). If the Kuss-Walzer was infused with so many beautiful tunes, then this work is not any less inspired. Waltz 1A and 1B are quite dreamy-sounding, as was the Introduction that preceded it – the waltz really comes alive in Waltz 2A onwards: Waltz 3A and 3B are some of the best tunes I’ve heard in a late Strauss work, especially the slow Waltz 3B.

Robert Stolz’s version with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra (Wiener Musik, vol. 7) is the best in my opinion – carefully spaced out and not too quickly played. Willy Boskovsky is alright with the Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester on the EMI label. I’d, however, not go for Naxos’ version of this work – the pace is so rushed that you’d wonder what’s the hurry. The normally assured and reliable Oliver Dohnányi is the culprit directing his accomplice, the Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra in this case. 

I’ve a suggestion – you might want to listen to Strauss’ overture to the same stage work – it is also overflowing with similarly graceful melodies that permeate this work.    

(4) Schatz (“Treasure”) Walzer, op. 418

der zigeunerbaron

The Treasure Waltz is also from another famous stage work – “Der Zigeunerbaron” (The Gypsy Baron) which is probably Strauss’ operetta with the most Hungarian melodies. Strange, though, because the attractive Treasure Waltz doesn’t betray any signs of its origins, instead sounding like a classic Strauss waltz of old. I mean, it doesn’t sound remotely close to the tense Overture even though some of the waltz parts also share some limelight there.

I particularly enjoyed Waltz 1A for the way it is developed – it blends the following Waltz 1B very well, including the tense and arresting chords adjoining them both. The rest of the waltz alternates between some lushly romantic moments to some bizarre tunes but overall is quite enjoyable.

I favour Fritz Reiner’s version with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – it may not have the same Viennese verve as displayed by the Austrian orchestras such as the Wiener Volksoper and Wiener Johann Strauss ensembles but the varying tempo and flow which Reiner employs is infinitely more memorable (e.g. the romantic Waltz 3B and 4A). I’d go for the Volksoper version next for its completeness. Take note that you should go for the version clocking in at eight minutes. There’s a longer version by the same orchestra which makes you yawn (by about half a minute or so), replete with slow timpani drumroll and flourish at the end for twice the shame. 

(5) Wiener Frauen (“Viennese Ladies”), Walzer op. 423

wiener-frauen 

I’ve this strange perception that all of Strauss’ waltzes with the ‘Wiener’ prefix is quite good. Let’s see –  the Wiener Punschlieder op. 131 isn’t too shabby, Wiener Chronik op. 268 is good, Wiener Bonbons op. 307 is great, Wiener Blut op. 354 is fantastic and the Wiener Frauen is quite flamboyant, nowhere near the league of Bonbons and Blut but has its own charm and cheekiness.

You’ll love the enduringly beautiful Waltz 1A and actually most of the later parts of the work. The Coda is also quite masterful but I’m sure you’re not just looking out for that.

Alfred Walter leads the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra with a fine rendition of this work. I also heartily recommend Willi Boskovsky’s confident direction of the Wiener Johann Strauss Orchestra of this waltz on the EMI label. The difference between the two is barely noticeable but the Boskovsky’s version takes the edge here.

(6) Adelen-Walzer (“Adele”) op. 424

JohannAdeleStrauss adele strauss

Johann Strauss II married thrice and it’s quite evident that he found his creative spirit again in the later years of his life, owing much to the influence of Adele Strauss, just as Jetty Treffz did much earlier in his career.

The reflective and thoughtful melodies of the Adelen-Walzer are hauntingly beautiful and you would appreciate this serenade for its original and tuneful waltz sections. Naxos features Alfred Eschwé conducting the CSR Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava in an assured performance of this heartwarming work. This is the only version that I’m aware of in the CD market, so drop me a line if you do find another one.

(7) Donauweibchen (“Danube Maiden”), Walzer op. 427

donauweibchen

Strauss’ stage work ‘Simplicius’ provides some melodies for his waltz Donauweibchen.

Actually, you’d have to admire Strauss’ astuteness in arranging melodies from his operettas to further create entirely new published compositions. There is no weak link in this work – right from the yearning Waltz 1A to the disconsolate-sounding Waltz 1B, then to the brashness of the entire Waltz 2 and to the more relaxed Waltz 3, before the exciting Waltzes 4A and 4B which I love.

Robert Stolz’s version with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra comes recommended for me. The performance takes the usual shortcuts but the oh so lovely Waltz 4A and 4B are executed to perfection. Franz Welser-Möst also provides the New Year’s Concert cheer with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with a reasonable interpretation. Willy Boskovsky is actually ok with the Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester but sadly tapers off into a lull at the imperative Waltz 4 part. Shame, this.   

(8) Kaiser-Jubiläum – Jubel Walzer (“Imperial Jubilee – Rejoicing Waltz”) op. 434

kaiser franz josef

This waltz is quite serious in nature but displayed a composition style which could not be compared with Strauss’ earlier waltzes. Indeed, the outpouring of joy is never realized in this work, which is more regal-sounding rather than overtly cheerful.

I think that the beauty of this work lies in the masterful writing and the flow between the various waltz sections which are seamless. Craft alone does not win my admiration – it’s also the surprisingly creative melodies (Waltz 1B and Waltz 2B) which also lend much character to this memorable work.

To my best knowledge, there’s only one version one could go for – Johannes Wildner directing the Czechoslovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice) on the Naxos label. The conductor occasionally gets at my nerves with his very stiff conducting style and his rigid structuring of pieces but he allows much fluidity in the playing with this recording and it’s one that you should enjoy.

(9) Kaiser-Walzer (“Emperor Waltz”) op. 437

kaiser wilhelm und kaiser franz josef

Look at how far down the road we’ve gone. It’s already near the middle of the opus 400-something list….but we’re not done yet.

You must have heard of this masterpiece before – it’s almost as familiar as the Blue Danube waltz op. 314 (if not as famous) and quite right too: this is one of Strauss’ last best-loved works which does not show signs of dulled creativity and expression. In fact, his writing had become richer and mature – the joy is never too bacchanalian and the more wistful parts have a more appreciable effect. The climax with cymbals precedes the Waltz 4, so it also evidences a new direction taken by Strauss in terms of composition during the evolution of the waltz form.

I’ve simply love Willi Boskovsky’s version with the Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester for this one. There’s no other worthy contestant! Let me know what you think, though.

(10) Rathausball-Tänze (“City Hall Ball Dances”) op. 438

 wiener rathaus

Karl Michael Ziehrer handed Johann Strauss II a musical defeat on the occasion of the inauguration of the Vienna City Hall in 1890 with the “Wiener Bürger” op. 419. You’ve probably heard of this account before, so I’m not going to repeat it for your ease of reference here.

To be fair, I’ve heard Ziehrer’s work before and it’s reasonably well-crafted though I can’t really remember much of its tunes after having last heard it in 1998 on a CD I used to have. Strauss’ work is also quite up to the mark but in no way completely triumphs over his rival’s waltz – I don’t really like the glimpses of the ‘Blue Danube waltz’ in the Coda of this work although the sublime Waltz 1A of Strauss’ waltz really made me believe that the listeners at the Rathaus must be tone-deaf or simply overawed by Ziehrer’s composition.

Mariss Jansons leads a very fine Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the Neujahrskonzert (New Year’s Concert) 2012. Alfred Walter vies for your attention too with the Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice) on the mammoth Naxos label.

 

(vol. 4 part 2 to come soon)       

    

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3 Responses to Johann Strauss II–Best waltzes and performers (vol. 4) Part 1

  1. Wasay Shahid says:

    The nice compositions by Johann Strauss II but I only love Blue Danube and Kaiserwalzer

  2. Adair Castro says:

    Esperare la parte 2

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