People who love the music of Johann Strauss take it seriously enough to demand the highest standards in its performance. That is to say such conductors as Bruno Walter, Josef Krips, Franz Salmhoter, Fritz Reiner, Arthur Fiedler, Felix Weingartner, Clemens Krauss, Erich Kleiber and of course Edwards Strauss have given us in the past, and such as Karl Boehm, Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, Antal Dorati (the creator, after all, of "Graduation Ball") and Willi Boskovsky give today.
Strauss lovers do not mind duplicating titles in their record collections, but are always on the lookout for that rare waltz or polka that has not turned up on records before, or has not been available for years. A collection of "Classical Waltzes, Galops, Polkas" on the low-priced Summit label (SUM 5007) seems to offer several of these, and conducted by one of the most respected Strauss interpreters of recent years, Anton Paulik; but it turns out to be travesty compounded to the point of disaster.
The excitement of discovering any recording of the waltz "O Schoener Mai' may well move a devoted Straussophile to overlook the error in listing that tittle (it is shown as "O Du Schoener mai" and to smile indulgently at the gratuitous translations and oafish combinations of German and English in the other credits (Paulik here conducts the Vienna Peoples Opera Orchester), but smiles vanish when the sound begins to pour out from this wretched disc.
It really ought to occur to anyone at all familiar with this material that there are just too many titles listed here -- six big waltzes, five polka, two marches, the Intermezzo from "1001 Nights" and the Overture to "Waldmeister," enough for two records. Sure enough, the "Lagunenwaltz," the "Kiss Waltz," "Freut' Euch des Lebens, Bei uns z' haus, wo die zitronen blugh'n" and the Overture, as well as "O Schoener mai," are mercilessly truncated. It is not just a matter of cutting introductions or postludes (bad enough in any event), but in some cases reducing the dimensions of a piece to what we might have had 40 years ago from Harry Horlick and bis A&P Gypsies.
The polkas are more or less intact, but confusion in a labeling indentifies "Elektrophor" as "Leichtes Blut," while what its labeled "Elektrophor" bears only a passing resemblance to "Leichtes Blut." The sound is unacceptable thin and shrill, and the portions of the big pieces that are performed here do no honor to either Strauss or Paulik.
It is more than a little odd that so lovely a waltz as "O Schoener Mai" should have been so long neglected. It is perhaps not one of the Waltz King's certifiable masterwork, but it is very appealing in its own right, and could have been Ravel's thematic source for "La Valse." There have been only two prior offerings of this piece in this country at any time (except for one or two vocal arrangements in the '30s), neither of them likely to have been widely noticed.
Some 25 years ago there was a reasonably attractive, but horridly recorded, full-length performance, atributed to the London Festival Orchestra under "Enrico Valsevetti," in a collection headed "Strauss Family Album" on the Que label. A few years later the same performance, under the same heading, but this time with some different companion pieces and now attributed to the Berlin Concert Orchestra under "Siegfried Lack," appeared on the similarly obscure Treasure label. In both cases, by the way the waltz was not identified by its own title, but simply as "Waltzes from the operatta 'Prince Methuselah.'"
It is time, surely for a respectable recording of this piece, and of some of of the other lesser-known waltzes that Howard Barlow recorded for Columbia before World War II and Salmhofer did for Philips (issued here on Epic) in the early years of microgroove. There are plenty of gorgeous "Blue Danubes" and "Wiener bluts," and even a choice of fine versions of "Seid Umschlungen, Millionen!" and "Mephisto Hoellenrufe," but we still need and acceptable "O Schoener Mai," the "Motoren-Walzer," "Gunstwerber," "Ballg'schichten," "Telegraphische Depeschen," and several more. Since the conductors who really know how to handle this material have become rather an "endangered species," it were better sooner than later. If Boehm, Kara, Ormandy, Dorati or Boskovky can't be given the assignment, this frustrated Straussian would like to suggest that some imaginative record producer try to persuade either Erich Leinsdorf of Julius Rudel. Both were born in Vienna and have the music in their blood, as verified by the very few Strauss titles that each recorded several years ago (in Leinsdorf's case nearly 35 years ago when he was with the Cleveland Orchestra).