May 2006

Johann Strauss, Jr. - Waltzes
Vienna Symphony; Yakov Kreizberg, conductor
PentaTone 5186 052
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2006

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

Chicago Symphony; Fritz Reiner, conductor
RCA Living Stereo 71615
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Originally released: 1957 and 1960
Reissue Released: 2006

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

by Rad Bennett

The composers of the Strauss family raised the waltz to the level of concert masterpiece. All of them were incredibly talented, but it is Johann, Jr. who has come down through history as the most famous.

The lovely PentaTone disc contains six of his brightest masterpieces. There are two ways to play these works. One is to be coy, precious, and cute. This manner is best exemplified in recordings by Willi Boskovsky and the Vienna Philharmonic. The other manner is more serious and reserved, with greater attention given to the tone-poem quality of the music. Yakov Kreizberg, the new Principal Guest Conductor of the Vienna Symphony, is more tuned into the second method. His readings are spacious, precise, elegant, warm, and regal. His musicians play with wonderful tone and technique; I have never heard this orchestra sound so thoroughly world-class. Moreover, these are the best-recorded versions available. The sound is rich and full yet totally transparent. One can hear a myriad of detail in every passage. The surround channels are perfectly balanced to the front and create a palpable sense of space.

As much as I love the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Reiner’s famous Living Stereo performances seem a bit perfunctory and flag-waving after the Kreizburg. The best items on Vienna are by Richard Strauss and Weber. Reiner’s version of the Invitation to the Dance has to be the most beguiling ever recorded. The three-channel sound is an improvement over that of the original Living Stereo CD, yet it seems overly bright at times and tuttis are a bit congested.