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The Essence of Viennese Music - Guth

The Essence of Viennese Music - Guth

Chesky  SACD255

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


"The Essence of Viennese Music - Opera, Operetta and Dance" Mozart, Schubert, Johann Strauss Sr., Johann Strauss Jr., Franz Lehar, Emmerich Kalman

Edith Lienbacher (soprano)
Herbert Lippert (tenor)
Bruckner Orchester Linz
Peter Guth (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - October 10, 2007

The full title of this disc is "The Essence of Viennese Music - opera, operetta and dance". Rather cumbersome, but a fair description of the contents. It is played by an orchestra from Linz, Austria's third city (but certainly not a third-rate band), a conductor (Peter Guth) who specialises in music of Johann Strauss II and a pair of excellent young soloists in soprano Edith Lienbacher and tenor Herbert Lippert.

While its programme contains many of the expected Viennese lollipops, it goes beyond the merely predictable, and the producers have come up with a diverse and very entertaining concert. It opens with the younger Strauss' Polka schnell 'Thunder and lightning', given a lively and bracing performance, particularly from the percussion, who are spread along the back of the auditorium. A duet from Strauss' Vienna Blood follows (Das eine kann ich nicht verzeih'n), performed by the fresh-voiced soloists with a fine sense of style and lilt, aided by their excellent diction and characterful woodwind support; their music duet seductively into what we know as the Waltz 'Vienna Blood'. The balance is rather odd here, though; distractingly the voices sing at one another from either side of the wide stage instead of interacting while standing close together as one would normally expect.

The orchestra follow up with a fine rendition of Strauss Senior's Radetzky March, often used as an encore in the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year Concerts; the Bruckner Orchestra percussion open it very impressively, and the march has a military snap and swagger redolent of Vienna's Imperial age. Moving back into the world of Strauss operetta, Lippert gives us the Duke's Aria fron 'A Night in Vienna', suitably ardent and with some fine soft singing. A pair of Mozart's arias follow; Susanna's from Le nozze di Figaro and Tamino's from The Magic Flute, and this vocal group ends with Lehár's Vilje Lied from The Merry Widow, one of my favourites, sung seductively and without affectation or parody by Edith Lienbacher.

The orchestra next take over with J Strauss II's Overture to Die Fledermaus, his usual pot-pourri of themes from the opera. Strings dig nicely into the famous waltz, and there is plenty of champagne sparkle at the finale. The producers return us to Lehár for a duet from The Merry Widow ('Lippen schweigen'), and thankfully allow the singers to get physically closer together for their romantic scene, complete with gypsy fiddles and solo 'cello to bolster their ardour. Next, on to Schubert, an essential character on the Vienna scene, although not always a comfortable contributor to the Biedermeyer atmosphere. The orchestra begin the Entract in B minor from Rosamunde a little slowly and portentiously, but the affectionately played woodwind solos in succeding sections more than make up for this. We hear so little of Schubert's operas that hearing 'Licht senkt es sich vom Himmel nieder' from Das Dreimäderlhaus is a particular pleasure, its heartfelt melody rendered beautifully by Herbert Lippert. I was reminded of how much Schubert's operatic music, even though it failed on the stage, was an influence on his successors, up to and including Gilbert & Sullivan.

Back to Strauss Jr for another nugget from Die Fledermaus; Adele's Couplet, otherwise known as the Laughing Song, where Lienbacher shows off her coloratura and acting abilities. Another lollipop from Lehár follows, again sung by Lippert - 'You are my heart's delight' from The Land of Smiles, beloved of generations of lyric tenors the world over, here convincing enough to secure any female heart for Mr Lippert.

In the home stretch, at last we come to the inevitable Blue Danube Waltz, not the original version for men's chorus but the traditional orchestral one. Here the Linz Bruckner Orchestra emulate their Viennese cousins with a shimmering, hushed start, and add the almost inimitable Vienna Philharmonic's slight pause before the last beat in the bar, a special lilt for music which has almost become the signature of a great city and its musical history. The disc's finale is allotted to Emmerich Kálmán, a Hungarian by birth, and features a duet from his Die Czárdásfurstin, full of gypsy colour. A swinging, light-hearted frothy conclusion to 'The Essence of Viennese Music'.

Chesky's recording, DSD according to the disc label, dates from 2003 and portrays a very wide and deep orchestral platform in the Brucknerhaus auditorium of Linz. The perspectives and sound are very natural, although perhaps there is rather more reverberation in the empty hall than ideal for some, and we are placed a dozen or so rows back in the stalls. There is rather less focus and sheer detail than on many recent true DSD offerings, but the sound is nonetheless very good, yielding plenty of excitement at a good volume level.

Chesky's slim jewel-box notes are rather sparse, with brief biographies of the performers but sadly no texts or context notes for the vocal items; since these are sung in German, many newcomers in particular will be left wondering what the songs are all about.

This really is a feel-good disc; splendid performances all round, and a well-filled and well-chosen programme which works well and provides a wonderful escape from the world - just what the Viennese excel in doing! Even if the Bruckner Orchestra sound is not quite as well-upholstered as that of the Vienna Philharmonic, they work hard to show that they can give their peers a run for their money in this repertore. Buy it, but be warned - these glorious melodies will haunt you for many hours after the disc has finished playing.

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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