Carl Michael ZIEHRER (1843–1922)
Die Landstreicher - Operetta in two acts and a prelude (1899)
Daniele Behle (tenor) – Roland; Thomas Dewald (tenor) – August Fliederbusch; Maria Leyer (soprano) – Berta Fliederbusch; Karl Fäth (bass) – Gratwohl; Anneli Pfeffer (soprano) – Anna Gratwohl; Boris Leisenheimer (tenor) – Rudi von Muggenheim; Dominik Wortig (tenor) – Mucki von Rodenstein; Caroline Stein (soprano) – Mimi Cagliari; Kay Stiefermann (baritone) – Kampel; Espen Frgran (baritone) – Fürst Adolar Gilka; Arndt Schumacher (baritone) – Leitgeb
WDR Rundfunkchor and WDR Funkhausorchester, Köln/Helmuth Froschauer
rec. 20 – 28 February 2008, WDR, Klaus von-Bismarck-Saal, Cologne
Synopsis enclosed
CAPRICCIO C5261 [55:49]

Viennese operetta was a fairly long-lived phenomenon, but it had its ups and downs and the composers arrived in shoals. The earliest generation included Franz von Suppé who, inspired by Offenbach’s French operettas, was the pioneer in Vienna. His Dichter und Bauer was premiered as early 1846 at Theater an der Wien and was followed by more than a dozen popular works, most of which are remembered today only through their spirited overtures – still frequently played and recorded. The only survivor is his masterpiece Boccaccio from 1879.

By then a competitor had entered the stage, Johann Strauss II, six years Suppé’s junior and already well-established as the waltz king. Most of his fifteen operettas have also disappeared but at least Die Fledermaus, Eine Nacht in Venedig and Der Zigeunerbaron are regularly revived.

In the next generation two composers are commonly regarded as heirs to the old 'uns, both born in 1842: Karl Millöcker and Carl Zeller. The former wrote twenty ‘light operas’ of which Der Bettelstudent has become an evergreen. Gasparone hasn't been completely forgotten either. There is at least one complete recording, with Hermann Prey in the title role. The latter also produced more than a handful of stage works, and one was a real hit: Der Vogelfänger.
In the next generation Oscar Straus — no relation to Johann — and Franz Lehár were central names, both born in 1870 but let’s turn back to Karl and Carl. Among Zeller’s today unknown operettas was one titled Der Vagabund, a suitable bridge to a third member of this generation: Carl Michael Ziehrer, one year younger than the two Carls and a popular composer of entertainment music in Vienna during the last decades of the 19th century. He also wrote more than twenty stage works, among them Die Landstreicher (1899), which means The Vagabonds – the subject of the present review. This was actually not his greatest hit. That was Fremdenführer (Tourist Guide) and obviously a lot more of his stage music could be worth a listen, since the back of the inlay for this disc advertises a 4-CD box titled ‘Das grosse Operetten Festival’ with music by Ziehrer.

Die Landstreicher is here presented in a complete musical recording with no spoken dialogue. Readers who want to have an equivalent to ‘a night in the theatre’ may be disappointed, but there is a substantial synopsis in the booklet and, to be honest, how often would you want to hear the complete work again with kilometres of spoken German dialogue? It would cost you a second CD and after the third run-through you would start zapping with the remote control anyway. This is highly enjoyable light light-music, full of verve, high spirits and melodies. It's not very sophisticated and with no hidden depths, but if you love Viennese schmaltz – I won’t call it sentimentality – and a Heuriger Abend in Grinzing this is for you. The West German Radio Orchestra in Cologne may not be the Wiener Philharmoniker but the Vienna-born conductor Helmuth Froschauer got this music with his mother’s milk. He sang in the Wiener Sängerknaben until his voice broke and later, for twelve years, conducted one of those boys’ choirs on tour around the world. It is hard to believe that someone can be more Wienerisch. The WDR Radio Chorus has a lot to do, excellent work indeed, and there is almost a dozen accomplished soloists, no Weltstar names but Kay Stiefermann has, since 2008 when the recording was made, established himself among the best German baritones. Quite recently I reviewed his first solo-CD in positive terms.

That said, the star of the performance is Daniel Behle in the role of Roland. This was recorded fairly early in his now illustrious career. I heard him as Prince Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in Stockholm just a couple of months after this recording was made and then described his voice as ‘mellifluous, agile, beautiful, technically spotless and with enough heft to make his top notes ring out’. All this is valid for his contribution to Die Landstreicher. He also has one of the hit songs in the operetta, the waltz song Sei gepriesen, du lauschige Nacht, hast zwei Herzen so glücklich gemacht (tr. 12). You have to travel a long way indeed to hear this music better sung. The other schlager is Rudi and Mucki’s march duet Der Zauber der Montur (tr. 9).

I haven’t given an outline of the story for the simple reason that you don’t need it, unless you buy the disc, and then you get the synopsis anyway.

A pleasant surprise. Have you got a sweet tooth? Then buy it. If you haven’t, then at least try it.

Göran Forsling

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