Wien bleibt Wien

Thomas Christian Ensemble

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Wien bleibt Wien Review

by James Manheim

This small-ensemble performance of Viennese waltzes -- the music is played on two violins, a viola, a cello, and a string bass -- isn't claimed to be an authentic performance; the waltz as it increasingly developed depended on complex orchestration and contrasts between solo and group. Nevertheless, as annotator Hans Winking points out, the symphonic extravaganzas one can see all over the world on television on New Year's Eve are themselves mostly arrangements, at least when music by earlier waltz composers like Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I is being played. And of course the waltz permeated Viennese life for decades, with popular waltzes undergoing arrangements for every ensemble found within the magnificent Ring Road. Thus this performance is conflating what are really two separate questions, but it's generally an enjoyable change of pace for anyone who feels musical arteries clogged with the Schlag of Mehta (or crème fouettée of Rieu). This disc sticks mostly to waltzes from the middle of the nineteenth century, when an ensemble of 12 or 15 players might have been common and a string quintet not out of the question. The works heard are smaller in scale than those of Strauss II, with hints of folk music of points east of Vienna and reflections of various fads that passed through the city -- Chinese music (or what Viennese imagined as Chinese music) in Strauss I's Chineser-Galopp, Op. 20, track 6, or the first flowering of the polka. A few later pieces, chosen for their adaptability to the quintet medium (the Pizzicato Polka doesn't lose much), are also included. The notes may be the most attractive feature of this release for waltz buffs; they open with a largely irrelevant but interesting explanation of the title saying "Wien bleibt Wein" (Vienna will always be Vienna) and proceed with notes on each individual piece, pointing out some of the connotations the music would have had for a Viennese listener of the time. This disc probably will not diminish sales of the usual waltz collections but will appeal to the waltz fan.

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