Strauss in St Petersburg
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 10937 (82:49)
This is a double-anniversary disc, offering a collection of mostly the composer’s lesser known works to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the orchestra as well as the 80th birthday of its principal conductor, Neeme Järvi, who is head of a musical dynasty and no stranger to these reviews. We learn from Peter Kemp’s detailed booklet notes that in 1856 the management of the railway company operating the Vauxhall Pavilion in St Petersburg’s picturesque Pavlovsk Park secured the services of Vienna’s leading dance music composer, Johann Strauss II. This was to be the first of eleven successful seasons (1856-65 and 1869). All but two of the 20 tracks on the album are composed by Johann: these being Pizzicato-Polka written with brother Josef, and Erst Liebe (First Love) by Olga Smirnitskaya with whom he evidently had a passionate affair. The soloist here is soprano Olga Zaitseva. The all-too-short contribution of the Estonian National Male Choir to Bauern-Polka (Peasants’ Polka) makes me sorry this was the only track on which they were used. Alongside the likes of Persian March, Pleasure Train, and Wine, Woman and Song! there are items that may even be unfamiliar to devotees of the unmissable New Year’s Day concerts broadcast from the Austrian capital. The benchmarks for Strauss recordings are, of course, those by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Although not quite having the VPO's special 'je ne sais quoi' in this music the ENSO play well, and the whole album, choc-a-bloc with lively tunes and in brightly recorded sound, is very listenable.
Peter Burt © April 2017