Walzer Revolution / Harnoncourt, Concentus Musicus Wien
WALTZ REVOLUTION: From Mozart’s Dances to Lanner and Strauss • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Concentus Musicus • SONY 88697914112 (2 CDs: 100:14)
MOZART Contradances, K 603/1, 609/1, 609/4. 6 German Dances, K 571. J. STRAUSS I Radetzky March. Erste Kettenbrücke Waltz. Schäfer Quadrille. Carnival in Paris. Waltz à la Paganini. LANNER Pas de 9 After Saviero Mercadante. Sehnsuchts-Masur. Hans-Jörgel Polka. Malapou Galop. Hexentanzwalzer. Corso Donati March. Cerrito Polka. Jagd Galop. Die Schönbrunner Waltz
A rectangular red sticker affixed to the CD case proclaims: “A REVOLUTIONARY APPROACH to Vienna’s most famous musical export: THE WALTZ AS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE.” The breathless hype continues in the booklet, and is worth quoting at some length:
“With the present release, Nikolaus Harnoncourt is calling for a revolution: a revolution in the field of the waltz and of dance in general that goes back to its actual origins. Rediscovery and re-interpretation result from stepping back from an overwrought tradition and turning away from customs and rituals that cultural historians have come to associate with the concept of the waltz, but which in terms of its form and significance and also in its inherent complexity and subtle elegance have in fact forced this dance back to the very brink of musicological seriousness.
“The dance music of the 19th century has developed over the decades into the musical expression of revolution and of a conceptual emancipation dating back to the Age of Restoration in Europe. Even though continuing developments in the field of dance no longer go hand in hand with social change, Nikolaus Harnoncourt has nonetheless succeeded in spearheading a musical revolution by deliberately going back to the historical sound of original and rarely performed dances. Simply through the use of 10 different kinds of trumpet and five different types of clarinet, he creates a multifaceted variety of sonorities that today’s listeners will find unusual in the case of the waltz.
“Harnoncourt breathes new life into the waltz, treating it as a genre worth taking seriously in its original form.” Etc., etc.
Well, enough of such pompous, risible balderdash (although it’s almost scary to think that someone got paid good money to write this hyperbolic claptrap). In fact, these performances sound little different from the best performances of the allegedly “overwrought tradition” that the booklet notes affect to deride. Yes, there is the more acerbic and pungent timbre of the period instruments, with their arresting crispness of articulation, but these are hardly novelties anymore, even in the waltz genre. And, without a detailed scorecard to tell the listener exactly who is playing what and when, one cannot detect the difference between the 10 different trumpets and five different clarinets, especially since exactly what those 15 different instruments are is nowhere specified. Finally, in a gesture that is positively reactionary rather than revolutionary, this set times out at a parsimonious 100 minutes of music for two midpriced CDs that could easily accommodate 150 minutes.
What do make this an extremely worthwhile and enjoyable release are the musical contents and the performances. The numbers by Lanner and Strauss père are rarities indeed, drawn either from first published editions or archival manuscripts of unpublished items. Harnoncourt and his longtime forces of Concentus Musicus have both Mozart and the 19th-century Viennese waltz idiom bred into their fingertips from birth; they play with unimpeachable stylishness, in performances abounding in color, lilt, and vivacity. There is no shortage of resort to traditional ritardandi and plasticity of tempi, but the interpretations are blessedly free from the eccentricities in tempi that have marred some of Harnoncourt’s more recent endeavors. The recorded sound is suitably vibrant and brings every delightful detail to the fore without being overbearing. Everyone who loves the music of Strauss fils—and is there anyone among Fanfare readers who doesn’t?—should waltz over to a computer or retail music outlet forthwith to add this set to their music collections.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Catalog Number: 88697914112
Composer: Johann Strauss Sr., Josef Lanner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Concentus Musicus