Though full symphony orchestras may serve mature Viennese waltzes reasonably faithfully, they give little idea of the rawer, more primitive sound of earlier examples. Nor do the arrangements used by small groups such as the Boskovsky Ensemble. Here Nikolaus Harnoncourt goes back to original manuscripts and printed parts, and he uses period instruments to telling effect. Compare, for instance, Strauss Snr’s Radetzky March and Walzer à la Paganini as heard here with performances in Maazel’s 1999 VPO New Year Concert (RCA, 4/99)!
The booklet-notes (badly translated, alas) make much of the original instruments used – including 10 different kinds of trumpet and five different types of clarinet. Yet there is no mention of the instrumental complements employed or the style of playing required. When Strauss Snr toured Britain in 1838, his orchestra of 25 players included 14 wind players, and his performances achieved much of their impact from heightening the effect of short-winded rhythmic phrases with contrasts of wind colouring and pronounced use of dynamics. There may thus be even more to bring out than Harnoncourt does here, exhilarating though he is in such as Strauss Snr’s Schäfer-Quadrille.
The collection succeeds, though, not just in pioneering period performances but also through imaginative programming. There are several recording premieres among the Lanner pieces here, and the likes of his Malapou Galop are heard as never before. One way and another it’s a collection that demands the attention of anyone who thinks he knows how Viennese dance music should sound.