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Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Viennese Waltz Transcriptions

available at Amazon
Strausses (several & others), Waltz Transcriptions,
Berliner Soloisten, Leonskaja, Moll
Apex / Warner

available at Amazon
À nos amours,
(Arrangements of Strauss, Wagner, Schubert et al.)
D.Henschel / Diabolicus

I like transcriptions of Viennese Waltzes and I like transcriptions of classical works by the boys of the Second Viennese School. (Evidence here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Ergo, I love transcriptions of those, by them. An Apex reissue of a Teldec recording offers just that: The Berlin Soloists with Elisabeth Leonskaja and Philip Moll (piano and harmonium, respectively) tackle J.Strauss II with “Wein, Weib und Gesang”, “Rosen aus dem Süden”, “Schatzwalzer” in transcriptions of Berg, Schoenberg and Webern, respectively. Josef Lanner and J.Strauss I are represented with an Alexander Weinmann transcription of the Styrian Dances op.165 and the Wiener Gemüts-Walzer. All that is ably performed and it suffices for intuitive swaying to and fro while listening. It doesn’t, however, possess that last bit of keenness and bite that would lift it above other such collections, of which there are a fair amount by now. The flimsy, bare-bones presentation—next stop mp3—doesn’t help, either. What makes the release noteworthy at all is the first piece included. Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel” arranged, transformed, and waltzified. There’s a reason the Viennese composer, musicologist, and teacher Franz Hasenöhrl (1885-1970; that’s his real name, by the way, in case you are thinking “surely ‘Bunny-ears’ has got to be a pseudonym) called it: “Till Eulenspiegel – quite different!”

Perhaps that’s enough a curiosity to pique your interest. Or you just want to dip into these transcriptions at a budget price and you don’t mind the lack of presentation—in which case the Apex disc has its obvious attractions. Myself, I rather prefer the Berlin Classics recording of the Berliner Streichquartett which contains the same J.Strauss II hits—and a few more—and is played with a greater affinity for the musical region in which the sounds of the Waltz King and the Pantonalists merge and become one. The Berlin Soloists’ recording, in comparison, sounds much more like straight-forward Strauss, except with a Harmonium. If you like either of those discs or transcriptions in general, do also look for À nos amours, a disc on Ambroise by the chamber group Diabolicus (conducted by Dietrich Henschel). Rather than just going with J.Strauss II or his musical or actual relatives or his namesake, it adds Wagner, Schubert, Luigi Denza, and Ferruccio Busoni arrangements by Schoenberg (four by him—one by Berg, one by Erwin Stein, and the Siegfried-Idyll doesn’t need transcription) to the mix. And Diabolicus plays with the verve and edge that turns each bit from forgettable finger-food into an unforgettable amuse-gueule.

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