Label : Opus Kura
Format : Flac (image + cue)
Cover : Yes

What a treasure trove! Seven of the eight discs here derive from the personal holdings of Japanese Strauss enthusiast Mayumi Cho, whose collection of the composer runs to more than 700 78s, including more than 100 versions of the Blue Danube waltz (from which we’re treated to a mere 22 here!). Repertoire-wise, there is little off the beaten track; those in search of rarities from Strauss’s prodigious output should look elsewhere. Instead we have many of the evergreen waltzes, polkas, and operetta excerpts presented both in their original form and in a great variety of arrangements and adaptations, documenting a cornucopia of idiomatic performance styles and interpretive/re-creative traditions over the first half of the 20th century—much of it directly from younger contemporaries of the composer (d.1899). Aside from a few items in the supplementary New Year’s Concert (disc 8), all the music is by Johann II himself. Although some of the orchestral (and a few of the vocal) items are famous recordings that have appeared in historic collections on other labels, most of the material is new to CD.

CD 1 ( An der schönen, blauen Donau ): A whole disc devoted to Strauss’s most immortal creation mirrors the eclectic diversity of the set as a whole. The earliest recording represented preserves a crisp, no-nonsense performance from Sousa’s Band, the 1905 acoustic recording sounding amazingly vivid. Among orchestral versions from the electrical era, of particular interest is one from Johann Strauss III (son of the composer’s younger brother Eduard), made in London with a generic “Symphony Orchestra” in 1927. The style is very plain, with little or no concession to idiomatic Viennese inflection—rather similar to, if less subtle than, Weingartner’s clear-headed light touch with the Royal Philharmonic, recorded in the same year. Neither is much competition for Kleiber’s incomparable aristocratic Schwung, in his famous 1931 version with the Berlin Philharmonic (transferred a semitone sharp here). The Vienna Philharmonic is represented by Krauss in 1941—not the orchestra’s finest hour, reflected in a mellow, rather subdued performance with little of the electricity so evident in the postwar work of this partnership (cf. CD 8). The vocal versions document the period’s rage for a distinctive genre of arrangement for virtuoso solo soprano (with or without chorus, usually to words in German or French, sometimes English—once in Japanese here!). Some of these merely apply vocal overlays and elementary embellishments to an otherwise fairly faithful rendition of the score, as in Frieda Hempel’s beautifully classical performance from 1916, pure-toned with little vibrato. Others (see Maria Ivogün’s version from 1932) are crudely rearranged medleys of the “big tunes,” often capriciously reordered, transposed, reharmonized, with interpolated cadenzas. Trills, virtuoso roulades, and show-stopping high notes are very much the order of the day; the record high for the set belonging to Erna Sack’s 1936 Blue Danube, ascending at the final cadential flourish to a scarcely credible A6 (that’s the A five spaces above the treble staff!). Another popular genre (though not much represented in this set) was the virtuoso waltz medley or “paraphrase” for piano, where the free rein for 10-fingered embellishment could sometimes be a little too much of a good thing, overloading Strauss’s elegant creations as I feel Schulz-Evler does in his Arabesques on the Blue Danube, though Josef Lhévinne is in technically stupendous form for this 1928 recording. A different kind of license with the score can be heard in the big-band treatment from Victor Young & His Orchestra (1935), great fun with added countermelodies and freely composed bridges. On the other hand, Barnabas von Géczy’s Dance Orchestra (1933) is surprisingly faithful to the original, the small orchestra (strings, winds, percussion, with piano, accordion, and banjo) delivering a real tangy, exuberant Schwung —irresistible!

CDs 2, 3 ( Great Conductors ): The contents of these two discs will be the most familiar to collectors, with many classic performances having made previous CD appearances on DG, Teldec, Tahra, Preiser, and other labels. The Vienna Philharmonic tradition is represented by Krauss (his light, urbane Annen Polka from 1929, with that famous low-vibrato, high-portamento string style), Szell (lean, razor-sharp in Tritsch-Tratsch, 1934), Karajan ( Künstlerleben from 1946, memorably combining legato refinement and idiomatic rhythmic license), and Böhm ( Morgenblätter, 1949); less well known is a stylish 1931 Wo die Citronen blüh’n from the underrated Karl Alwin. The Berlin Philharmonic always played this repertoire with a distinctive “Prussian accent”—weightier and more brilliant than their Viennese counterparts, if (often) no less inflected and rhythmically idiomatic—as persuasively demonstrated by Walter ( Rosen aus dem Süden, 1930), Kleiber ( Tausend und eine Nacht, 1932), Reuss ( Pizzicato Polka, 1934—a refreshingly robust antidote to the affectedly mannered treatment that later became the norm in this piece), Furtwängler ( Die Fledermaus Overture, 1937), and Melichar ( O Schöner Mai, 1938). Two earlier Berlin recordings reflect a more relaxed, lower-key Old World charm: Julius Prüwer’s soft, sweet gut-strung violins in Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Municipal Opera Orchestra), and Leo Blech’s translucent, minimal-vibrato Kaiserwalzer (Staatskapelle), untidy but immensely characterful (both recorded 1928). The American perspective is fascinatingly varied: Toscanini’s famous 1941 NBC Blue Danube, full of exuberant élan and by no means inflexible, in contrast to Koussevitsky’s resplendently polished but metrically straitjacketed Wiener Blut (Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1928). Less well known are Ormandy’s stylish, sharply pointed Accelerations (Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, 1935); Leinsdorf’s spare, modernist-sounding Unter Donner und Blitz (Cleveland, 1946); a robust, zesty Neu-Wien from Fiedler’s Boston Pops (1938); Du und du from Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1930), richly colored and delivered with real Schwung; and an unremarkable Champagne Polka from the forgotten Howard Barlow and the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra (1941). Other highlights include Mengelberg’s unhurried, richly detailed Perpetuum Mobile (Concertgebouw, 1932); an objective, un-“interpreted,” but naturally authoritative Freut euch des Lebens from J. Strauss III again (1927); and Knappertsbusch’s larger-than-life treatment of the Kuss-Walzer (Berlin Grand Symphony Orchestra, 1930, but of a character more Bavarian than Prussian, let alone Viennese).

CD 4 ( Operetta ): The lion’s share is given to Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron. From the former we have Walter’s 1938 Paris recording of the overture, brilliant, hard-driven, and mercurial. Vocal excerpts include Lotte Schöne (1928), rich, fruity, and vibrantly characterful in “Mein Herr, was dächten sie von mir”; Erna Sack’s “Mein Herr Marquis,” with added high G at the end (1938); Maria Ivogün, authoritative and characterful in the Czardas (1932); and Elisabeth Schumann’s casual, impulsive charm, with her idiosyncratic combination of bell-like straight tone and liberal slides in “Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande” (1927). A longer ensemble excerpt from the end of act II features Lotte Lehmann and Richard Tauber, with conductor Frieder Weissmann—refreshingly straight, zesty, and unsentimental. From Der Zigeunerbaron we’re treated to Kleiber’s famous recording of the overture (Berlin Philharmonic, 1933) and a racy Entrance March from Hansgeorg Otto and the Berlin Staatskapelle (1937). Sopranos include Elisabeth Rethberg, who dispatches the Czárdás with gleaming instrumental precision and her typical high seriousness (1930); and Elena Gerhardt, straight and pure-toned in “Wer uns getraut” (1916). Tenor Josef Schmidt delivers “Als flotter Geist” with crisp, debonair patter, and real panache in the high Cs (1932), complemented by some memorable high camp from baritone Leo Schützendorf, in the ode to pig-farming, “Mein idealer Lebenszweck ist Borstenvieh” (1930). Other gems here include the overture to Das Spitzentuch der Königin, conducted by Dol Dauber with crackling wit, lightness, and point; and a 1940 medley from Wiener Blut, featuring a young, and not very recognizable, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf—hard-toned, soubrettish, and surprisingly unsubtle.

CD 5 ( Singing Johann Strauss ): Virtuoso soprano waltz arrangements predominate here. Further Blue Danube medleys are contributed by Americans Rosa Ponselle (sung in English, in magnificent voice in 1921) and Lily Pons (1939, in French, with stunning instrumental agility). Frieda Hempel is pure-toned and technically authoritative in Wein, Weib, und Gesang (1923); Maria Ivogün strong and secure in O schöner Mai (1924), her small, fast vibrato here reminiscent of Schwarzkopf (whom she later taught). Maria Sabo’s light, wistful charm in Liebeslieder (1930) nicely complements Adele Kern’s sumptuous, rose-tinted Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald from the same year. Less attractive is Miliza Korjus’s medley on Tausend und eine Nacht (1935), rather thick and unsubtle in expression, though also possessed of an amazing high register. In contrast, Erna Sack’s Kaiserwalzer (1938) is notably faithful to the original (notwithstanding her penchant for show-stopping high Gs). The soaring florid melody of Frühlingsstimmen is naturally conducive to vocal treatment, and Maria Cebotari is highly individual, with her trademark fast, intense vibrato (1936)—quite a contrast with Irene Eisinger, who is all tea-room coziness in the Annen Polka, sung in English (1937). Richard Tauber’s Rosen aus dem Süden displays his customary roguish charm and vocal limitations, involving alteration of the tune to stay in his registral comfort zone (1938). No surprises from the Vienna Men’s ( Wein, Weib, und Gesang, 1930) and Boys’ ( Kaiserwalzer, 1938) Choirs, but a delightful one from the Comedian Harmonists (a German proto-King’s Singers before the war), who serve up a deliciously witty Perpetuum Mobile (1937).

CD 6 ( Strauss Salon Concert ): This documents the immense popularity and variety of light-music adaptations in the interwar years, ranging from straightforward rescorings of the originals to radical reworkings of the melodic material in the popular style of the day. Among the most memorable exponents of the former type were Barnabas von Géczy, whose trademark zest and inventively pungent instrumental combinations are on display in Morgenblätter and Frühlingsstimmen (1933); Adalbert Lutter, with sharp, spare sonorities in Künstlerleben (1936); and Adolf Wreege, with a light, witty touch in Wo die Citronen blüh’n (1950). Dajos Béla plays Accelerations very faithfully (1928), but perversely without the accelerandos from which the waltz takes its name! Hans Bund’s straight, uninflected rhythmic style ( Wiener Bonbons, 1941) is salvaged by piquant midphrase changes of instrumental color, lending the result an almost Webernian character. The Cologne Piano Trio ( Tritsch-Tratsch, 1936) is not a piano trio in the usual sense, but three pianos (or perhaps six hands on two pianos). Across the Atlantic, the “big band” treatment brings an ironic, and amusing, paradox in that the style does not naturally accommodate triple meter—witness Tommy Dorsey iron out the Blue Danube to duple time (1937), as if it were the most natural thing to do with it! Brother Jimmy (Dorsey) can be heard in another Blue Danube arrangement from the same year, with Josephine Tumminia, in an ingenious jazz variation on the virtuoso-soprano genre. Harry Horlick ( Wine, Women, and Song, 1938) manages to combine the Hollywood sound (muted brass, swooning strings, harp) with a real rhythmic snap and brio (and in triple time!). Less compelling, to my ears, are Paul Godwin’s slow treatment of the Schatz Waltz (1931) and Carmen Cavallaro’s placidly easy-listening piano in Vienna Life (1942). As for Bing Crosby (1947), he merely croons two phrases of the Emperor Waltz (“Love is a dream …”) as a frame for its sumptuously upholstered treatment by the Victor Young Orchestra. The Palm Court Orchestra’s rich divided-strings sonorities make for an attractive Rosen aus dem Süden (1945). “Le célèbre violiniste Rode et ses Tziganes” take us for a walk on the wilder side in Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald —intense, pungent, and bracingly astringent, with a captivating rhythmic swagger. Marek Weber’s medleys (“quodlibets”) from Die Fledermaus and Der Ziguenerbaron are zesty, peppery, with an irresistibly light touch (1927). And the Vienna Boheme Orchestra’s Waltz Medley (1932) is once heard, never forgotten—magnificently zany, including organ (!), zither, and a wild variety of tuned percussion.

CD 7 ( Historical Acoustic Recordings, 1901–1924 ): The earliest recording in the set is a rather rough-and-ready Blue Danube from the Vienna Drescher Orchestra in 1901. Other early ensemble recordings (on brass, strings, and marimbas) are obviously constrained by the limitations of the medium at this time. Recordings of the great American orchestras came later in the acoustic period. Given the stylishness of their later Strauss recordings, Stock and the Chicago Symphony are surprisingly unsubtle in 1001 Nights (1917), while Stokowski delivers a brilliant, hard-driven Blue Danube in Philadelphia (1919). Best, by far, is an intensely characterful, highly inflected Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald from Mengelberg and the New York Philharmonic (1923). Early-1920s light-orchestra arrangements from Dajos Béla ( Künstlerleben ) and Marek Weber ( Schatz ) are captivating in their idiomatic rhythmic lift; in a Kaiserwalzer from the Berlin Künstlerkapelle, the extreme portamento of the violin style is something to behold. We’re treated to more soprano waltz arrangements; the earliest is Marcella Sembrich (1905), who sings Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald in French with a pure “white” tone and very little vibrato. Maria Barrientos’s 1917 Frühlingsstimmen is of stunning soufflé lightness and agility. Operetta excerpts are represented by Selma Kurz’s 1911 Czárdás from Die Fledermaus (fast and straight, before surprising us at the end with a primal animal screech on high D), and the ubiquitous Maria Ivogün in “Mein Herr Marquis” (1924). Pianist Alfred Grünfeld knew Strauss personally, and his version of Frühlingsstimmen (1913) is treasurable, with a nonchalant lightness and none of the showy textural overloading that became so fashionable with later virtuoso arrangers. There’s a priceless charm to the way he adds an extra note to the beginning of the tune every time, as if mis-remembering it.

CD 8 ( Appendix: New Year’s Concert 1954, Part 2 ): The decision to round out the collection in this way is questionable, since this duplicates half of Opus Kura’s own previous release of the complete concert as a two-disc set—redundant for those of us who already have it, and will shortly be for those who don’t, as they will assuredly want it when they hear the Krauss/Vienna Philharmonic partnership at its incomparable best: a life-enhancing combination of outsize Schwung and lightness of touch, served up with a breathtaking unanimity of orchestral inflection (including what must be the raciest, most exuberant Perpetuum Mobile ever). Full radio announcements, applause, and instant encores (of the two fast polkas) add to the atmosphere. Absolutely tremendous, but I’d much rather have had another disc’s worth from Mr. Cho’s voluminous stash of 78s.

The transfers reflect Opus Kura’s house style: open, realistic, the vividness of the original recordings uncompromised by any intrusive noise reduction. Documentation is idiosyncratic as ever from this label: engaging introductory essays on the history of the waltz, early recording techniques, and Cho’s collection, with discographic documentation of 78 sources. Thumbnail biographical sketches are cursory but useful, though afflicted by comically inept English translation. All in all, this is an incredibly tasty feast for lovers of the Waltz King, by far the most engrossing historic collection of this repertoire I have ever encountered. Don’t miss it!

CD1 An der schönen blauen Donau
1. Johann Strauss/ Symphony Orch. 1927
2. Felix Weingartner / Royal PO 1927
3. Erich Kleiber / Berlin PO 1931
4. Clemens Krauss/ Vienna PO 1941
5. Lehrer-Gesangverein Berlin-Neuköln 1929
6. Victor Female Chorus,Japan with Shige Yano (s) 1951
7. Frieda Hempel(s) 1916
8. Maria Ivogün/ Leo Blech/ SK Berlin 1932
9. Erna Sack/ SK Berlin 1936
10. Josef Lhévinne (p) 1928
11. Sousa’s Band 1905
12. Victor Young and His Orchestra 1935
13. Barnabas von Géczy Tanz-Orchester 1933

CD2 Great Conductors 1
1. Annen-Polka op.117 Clemens Krauss / Vienna PO 1929
2. Champagner-Polka op.211 Howard Barlow / Columbia Broadcasting SO 1941
3. Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka op.214 Georg Szell / Vienna PO 1934
4. Accellerationen op.234 Eugene Ormandy / Minneapolis SO 1935
5. Perpetuum mobile op.257 Willem Mengelberg / Concertgebouw O 1932
6. Morgenblätter op.279 Karl Böhm / Vienna PO 1949
7. An der schönen blauen Donau op.314 Arturo Toscanini / NBC SO 1941
8. Künstler-Leben op.316 Herbert von Karajan / Vienna PO 1946
9. Unter Donner und Blitz op.324 Erich Leinsdorf / Cleveland O 1946
10. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald op.325 Julius Prüwer / Berlin Municipal Opera O 1928
11. Wein, Weib, und Gesang! op.333 Ferdinand Leitner / Würltemberg Staatsorch., Stuttgart 1950
12. Pizzicato-Polka Wilhelm Franz Reuß / Berlin PO 1934
13. Freut euch des Lebens op.340 Johann Strauss Ⅲ/ SO 1927

CD3 Great Conductors 2
1. Neu-Wien op.342 Arthur Fiedler / Boston Pops 1938
2. Tausend und eine Nacht op.346 Erich Kleiber / Berlin PO 1932
3. Wiener Blut op.354 Serge Koussevitzky / Boston SO 1928
4. Wo die Citronen blüh’n! op.364 Karl Alwin / Vienna PO 1931
5. Du und Du op.367 Frederick Stock / Chicago SO 1930
6. O schöner Mai! op.375 Alois Melichar / Berlin PO 1938
7. Rosen aus dem Süden op.388 Bruno Walter / Berlin PO 1930
8. Kuß-Walzer op.400 Hans Knappertsbusch / Berlin Grand Sym 1933
9. Frühlingestimmen op.410 Felix Weingartner / British SO 1931
10. Kaiser-Walzer op.437 Leo Blech / Staatskapelle Berlin 1928
11. Die Fledermaus Ouvertüre Wilhlm Furtwängler / Berlin PO 1937

CD4 Operetta
1. Die Fledermaus, Overture Bruno Walter / Orchestre de la Conservatire, Paris 1938
2. Mein Herr, was dächten Sie von mir Lotte Schöne (sop) Blech/ SK Berlin 1928
3. Mein Herr Marquis, Sind Sie! Erna Sack (s) Schroder/ Berlin Deutsch Op 1938
4. Czardas, Klänge der Heimat Maria Ivogün (s) Blech/ SK Berlin 1932
5. Herr Chevaller ich grusse Sie!, Genug damit genug
Lotte Lehmann (s), Karin Branzell (ms), Grete Merrem-Nikisch (s),
Richard Tauber (t), Waldemar Stegemann (br) Weismann/ SK Berlin 1928
6. Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande Elisabeth Schumann (s) Alwin/Vienna St Op 1927
7. Das Spitzentuch der Königen, Overture Dol Dauber/ Orch
8. Der lustige Krieg―Nur für Natur Erich Kunz (br) Moralt/ VPO 1949
9. Eine Nacht in Venedig (Querschnitt) Friedrich Eugen Engels (ten) Schuler/ Berlin Deutsch Op 1938
10. Der Zigeunerbaron, Overture Erich Kleiber / Berlin PO 1933
11. Als flotter Geist Josef Schmidt (ten) Weismann/ SK Berlin 1932
12. So elend und so true Elisabeth Rethberg (sop) Weismann 1930
13. Wer uns getraut Elena Gerhardt (sop), Max Bloch (ten) 1916
14. Mein idealer Lebenszweck ist Borstenvieh Leo Schützendorf (br) Mairowitz c1930
15. Einzugsmarsch Hansgeorg Otto / SK Berlin 1937
16. Wiener Blut (Querschnitt) Elisabeth Schwarzkopf(s), Rupert Glawitsch(t) Berlin Deutsch Op 1940

CD5 Singing Johann Strauss
1. Liebes-Lieder, op.114: Luise Sabo (s) Wilhelm Grosz / SK Berlin c1930
2. Annen Polka, op.117: Irene Eisinger (s) 1937
3. Perpetuum Mobile, op.257: The Comedian Harmonists (Male Quintet) 1937
4. Wiener Bonbons, op.307: Herbert Ernst Gloh (t) / Otto Dobrindt 1931
5. An der schönen blauen Donau, op.314: Rosa Ponselle (s) 1921
6. An der schönen blauen Donau, op.314: Lily Pons (s) / Andre Kostelanetz 1939
7. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, op.325: Adele Kern (s)/ Weigert / Wiener Staatsoper 1930
8. Wein, Weib, und Gesang, op.333: Wiener Männergesang-Verien / Alois Melichar 1930
9. Wein, Weib, und Gesang, op.333: Frieda Hempel (s) 1923
10. Tausend und eine Nacht, op.346: Miliza Korjus (s) / SK Berlin 1935
11. O Schöner Mai!, op.376: Maria Ivogün (s) 1924
12. Rosen aus dem Süden, op.388: Richard Tauber (t) 1938
13. Rosen aus dem Süden, op388: Lea Piltti (s) /Bruno Seidler-Winkler / SK Berlin 1939
14. Frühlingsstimmen, op.410: Maria Cebotari (s) / Robert Heger/ SK Berlin 1936
15. Kaiser-Walzer, op.437: Wiener Säangerkneben 1938
16. Kaiser-Walzer, op.437: Erna Sack (s) / Rolf Schröder / Berlin PO 1938

CD6 Strauss Salon Concert
1. Accellerationen Dajos Béla 1928
2. Tritsch-Tratsch Polka Kölner Klavier-Trio 1936
3. Morgenblätter Barnabas von Géczy 1933
4. Wiener Bonbons Hans Bund Grosses Tanz Orch 1941
5. Blue Danube Waltz Tommy Dorsey 1937
6. Blue Danube Waltz Josephine Tumminia Jimmy Dorsey 1937
7. Künstlerleben Adalbert Lutter 1936
8. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald Le célèbre violoniste Rode et ses Tziganes
9. Wine, Woman and Song Harry Horlick 1938
10. Vienna Life Carmen Cavallaro 1942
11. Wo die Citronen blüh’n Adolf Wreege c1950
12. Rosen aus dem Süden Albert Sandler / Palm Court Orch 1945
13. Frühlingsstimmen-Walzer Barnabas von Géczy
14. Schatzwalzer Paul Godwin 1931
15. Emperor Waltz Bing Crosby /Victor Young Orch 1947
16. Die Fledermaus Marek Weber 1927
17. Der Zigeunerbaron Marek Weber
18. Waltz Medley Vienna Boheme Orch 1932

CD7 Historical Acoustic Recordings (1901-1924)
1. An der schönen blauen Donau: Carl Wilhelm Drescher / Drescher Orch. Wien 1901
2. An der schönen blauen Donau: Leopold Stkowski / Philadelphia SO 1919
3. Künstler-Leben: Josef Holzer / Großes Odeon Streichorchester 1910
4. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald: Willem Mengelberg / New York PSO 1923
5. Tausend und eine Nacht: Frederick A. Stock / Chicago SO 1917
6. Rosen aus dem Süden: Prince/Haydn Orchestra 1914
7. Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald: Marcella Sembrich (s) 1905
8. Frühlingsstimmen: Maria Barrientos (s) 1917
9. Die Fledermaus / Mein Herr Marquis: Maria Ivogün (s) 1924
10. Die Fledermaus / Czardas: Selma Kurz (s) 1911?
11. Das Spitzentuch der Königin / Walzer: Karl Meister (t) 1906
12. An der schönen blauen Donau: Hurtado Bros. Royal Marimba Band of Guatemala 1916
13. Frühlingsstimmen: Alfred Grüngeld (p) 1913
14. An der schönen blauen Donau: Rogers/ Victor Dance Orchestra (brass) 1909
15. Rosen aus dem Süden: Arthur Pryor’s Band (brass) 1913
16. Künstler-Leben: Dajos Béla Orchestra 1922
17. Schatzwalzer: Marek Weber Orchestra 1921
18. Keiser-Walzer: Kapellmeister Stern/ Künstlerkapelle vom Hotel Adlon, Berlin 1921