Thomas Christian Ensemble

Johann Strauss: Wein, Weib und Gesang

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The self-interested cabal that has controlled the legacy of the Second Viennese School has barely conceded that this music exists, but the fact is that, faced with mounting bills at his Society for Musical Private Performances during the ruinous inflation of the early '20s, Arnold Schoenberg organized a concert of arrangements of music by Johann Strauss (the younger) and opened it to the public in order to raise money, defensively pointing out that Brahms, too, liked Strauss waltzes. His proteges, Berg and Webern, were drafted to arrange one waltz each, with Berg snaring the familiar Wein, Weib, und Gesang, Op. 418 (Wine, Women, and Song), and Schoenberg contributed a pair. The autograph scores, all for the combination of string quartet, piano, and harmonium, were auctioned off at the end of the evening. Those four works open the program here, with a later arrangement of the Kaiser-walzer, Op. 437, by Schoenberg and several contemporary works in the same vein filling out the album; the later three pieces add flute and clarinet to the ensemble. They sound about like you might generally expect, and the excellent booklet notes by harmonium player Hans Winking attest to their considerable technical difficulties. The notes, aside from the insertion of the "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" (aka, the German national anthem) into the Kaiser-walzer, are untouched, but they're atomized and divided up among the instruments in ways that a) make the result into something that hardly sounds like Strauss, and b) does indeed reflect the personality of each composer/arranger, which is quite a feat. The Schoenberg arrangements for the original concert, Rosen aus dem Süden and Lagunen-Walzer (tracks 3 and 4), may be the most effective of the bunch with their moody use of the harmonium, but the Webern piece also fulfills expectations in an entertaining way. Vienna's Thomas Christian Ensemble deserves credit for bringing this music to the audiophile label MDG, which provides the perfect environment for its subtleties of texture. No doubt there are still serialists who recoil from the commercial compromise this music represented, and for the Strauss fan it's nothing more than a modern oddity, but in the end it's a lot of fun. Booklet notes are in German, French, and English.

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