Strauss in St Petersburg
The prime mover for this delightful collection is Vauxhall – not south of the Thames in London but a 17-mile rail route from St Petersburg to the terminus at Pavlovsk where, in 1838, a Vauxhall pavilion was constructed and music regularly played there. London’s famous Vauxhall Gardens had inspired the idea (that’s where the Russian word for railway station – ‘voksal’ – originates) and among the most notable conductors to grace the site was Johann Strauss II, who appeared there for 11 seasons. Neeme Järvi and his robust Estonian forces have put together a programme made up largely of Russian-themed pieces, Grossfürstin Alexandra-Walzer (‘Grand Duchess Alexandra Waltz’), for example, composed by Strauss in response to receiving a lavish present from the Grand Duchess herself, namely a diamond ring.
The wide expressive range of My Farewell to St Petersburg amounts, like so many of the finest Strauss family masterpieces, to an eight-minute tone poem and it’s good that Wine, Woman and Song! is presented complete with its three-and-a-half minute introduction. Among the novelties included is Erste Liebe (‘First Love’) by Olga Smirnitskaya (who Strauss was madly in love with), sung with affecting simplicity by Olga Zaitseva.
As Peter Kemp relates in his consistently revealing booklet notes, after siding with the revolutionaries during the 1848 Vienna Revolution, Johann Strauss II was persona non grata in court circles. All that changed four years later when, at the instigation of younger members of the imperial family, he was put in charge of dance entertainments at court, a happy state of affairs that gave rise to the exuberant and varied Hofball-Quadrille.
So many stories and anecdotes, so much musical entertainment; 20 tracks in all, with a handful of perennials scattered among the rarities, a veritable party-pack of Strauss family exotica. Järvi’s performances are spirited and straightforward. Most enjoyable.