February 2006

Mozart - Symphonies Nos. 36 ("Linz") & 41 ("Jupiter"); Johann & Josef Strauss - Waltzes
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Böhm, conductor
Preiser 90613
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality **
Overall Enjoyment ****

Karl Böhm has been written off by some as a dull conductor, but that is a very subjective issue, and very few conductors anywhere during the third quarter of the 20th century were as consistently persuasive in the Viennese classics, ranging from Mozart and Haydn to the Strauss family of waltz composers. After nine years in Dresden, Böhm began his now-legendary connection with the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera in 1943. By the time he last visited America with those organizations, in 1979, he had become the first (and so far only) individual named General Music Director of Austria.

The recordings reissued here are the first Böhm made with the Philharmoniker, following his long post-war "deNazification" process: Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony and the three Strauss waltzes (Johann’s Roses from the South and Morning Papers, Josef’s Music of the Spheres) for HMV in March 1949, the "Linz" initiating his connection with Decca 18 months later. There is a bloom on these performances that makes them worth preserving for their embodiment of the Viennese style and spirit. This "Jupiter" in particular still seems the strongest of Böhm’s several recordings of the work -- which is to say, simply one of the best ever. The "Linz" is similarly vital, and the waltzes show how magical a straightforward approach can be.

The sound is dated, and the transfers were made from 78s, but this is an eloquent reminder of the tradition that regarded such music as something more than mere raw material for a performer’s "personal statement."