J STRAUSS II Orchestral Works
Not since Ferenc Fricsay and Carlos Kleiber have I heard better-prepared performances of Strauss family perennials. Granted that Clemens Krauss and Willi Boskovsky were big on the Viennese lilt, with its audibly skipping heartbeat, and Karajan was tops for refinement, but Manfred Honeck twirls us through a winning programme with every solo beautifully pointed, every transition perfectly judged, while his orchestra responds as if he’d been conducting them for generations.
Try the quietly burbling woodwinds at the start of Die Libelle and the way Furioso scampers off, holding its tempo but never running out of breath. Eerie sul ponticellos greet Die Biene (‘The Bee’) and you’d have to venture back as far as Fritz Reiner in Chicago to hear a version of Austrian Village Swallows that matches this one, the way the introduction glides into the waltz proper, the subtle dynamics and ‘swallows’ that aren’t mechanically tethered to the beat. And if it’s humour you’re after, albeit humour of a gentle kind, there’s plenty of that, too: try Im Krapfenwaldl, with its beautifully drawn cello line. Of course, Johann II could haunt the memory alongside the best of his Romantic contemporaries, and Honeck relishes the sheer sensuousness of the principal theme of Roses from the South, while Tritsch-Tratsch, although super-swift, is lightness itself. Voices of Spring promotes the sort of subtle rubato that Honeck himself writes about in the booklet-note, an approach he learnt from the Austrian country folk (as did Mahler) long before he started his official studies.
On this showing, the Vienna Symphony present themselves as fully the equal of their more celebrated Philharmonic neighbours and with good sound (the recording dates from as recently as January of this year). I would count this as easily the finest Strauss family album we’ve had since Kleiber’s New Year’s Day Concerts from 1989 and 1992 (Sony). Buy it, and let’s hope that it signals more to come, maybe with Waldteufel, Lanner and Komzák added as part of the mix.