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CD review-Johann Strauss transcribed.

Few events have so revolutionised our appreciation of one of the arts as the invention of recorded sound. Before that comparatively few people, especially those who did not live in musical centres such as Vienna or Paris, had many opportunities to hear great music. Sometimes it was spread by a group of musicians adapting works written for an orchestra to performances by a limited number of players. Mozart's operas were often spread by a few wind players. The most frequent method, however, was amateur pianists playing in their own homes.

There also grew up in the nineteenth century a tradition of celebrated pianists transcribing contemporary works of whom Liszt was probably the greatest. Johann Strauss, both father and son, also introduced selections from operas into their dance music. In his turn Johann Strauss the younger, the 'Waltz King', has himself appealed to pianists wishing to adapt his works. Somewhat surprisingly his dance music was even transcribed by Arnold Schonberg and other 'modern' composers in the 1920s. Strauss's waltzes and other dance music has enjoyed tremendous popularity from its appearance in the cafes and gardens of Biedermeier Vienna until today's vast TV global audience for the annual New Year's Day Concert. Strauss CDs have poured out in a steady stream most notably Naxos's impressive set of 51 CDs containing all of Johann II's orchestral works.

Now that pioneering British company Hyperion, who have been particularly distinguished with the keyboard repertoire, have issued a new CD Godowsky: Strauss Transcriptions and Other Waltzes (CDA67626) performed by the Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin who has recorded many previous discs for Hyperion ranging from Haydn to Brahms and Alkan. His virtuoso technique has been widely and rightly praised. Leopold Godowsky was one of that procession of brilliant Polish pianists who dazzled audiences. Settling in Vienna (although by then a US citizen) in 1908 Godowsky made a speciality of Strauss waltzes. This disc includes his transcriptions--somewhat pretentiously entitled 'Symphonic Metamorphosis'--on three of the best known Strauss works, Die Fledermaus, Kunstlerleben and Wein, Weib und Gesang. Sadly, though perhaps symbolically, Godowsky's transcription of the Blue Danube was lost when the pianist left Vienna in that fatal year, 1914.

This impressive and enjoyable disc also includes a short 'idealized version' of another Strauss, not a member of the famous dynasty, but also Viennese, Oscar Straus (who dropped an S to avoid confusion). This is his poignantly titled 'Last Waltz', recovered from a piano roll made by Godowsky. This welcome CD reminds us of the great inventiveness of Johann Strauss, so admired by 'serious' musicians such as Brahms and Wagner, but also of the role of great pianists in disseminating music. Mr Hamelin has preserved and extended a great tradition.
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Title Annotation:Godowsky: Strauss Transcriptions and Other Waltzes
Author:Paterson, Anthony
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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