Christmas without music? Unthinkable. We can’t wait for the festival of joy to arrive and when at last the holidays are here, we enjoy the peace, reflecting on the world and taking pleasure in making children’s wishes come true – a very special atmosphere that is reflected in many melodies, carols and instrumental music. In Christmas with Salut Salon the four classical virtuosos from Hamburg – the two founders and violinists of the quartet Angelika Bachmann and Iris Siegfried, pianist Anne-Monika von Twardowski and cellist Sonja Lena Schmid – grant a Christmas wish and steal their listeners away on a musical journey through four centuries.
‘How I long for Christmas! Were it but come!’ says the fir tree in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous short story of the same name. At last, we can almost hear the tree‘s branches rustling. And that’s the way everything seems just before Christmas, in the weeks building up to Christmas Eve; somehow out of sync with the daily grind and full of pleasant anticipation. There’s something in the air, something unsaid, which everyone knows, an intuition that brings people together, that makes them more sensitive and caring towards one another than at other times of the year. It is a feeling that touches people’s hearts.
As a chamber music ensemble the musicians of Salut Salon, who for twelve years have swept audiences off their feet with classical music, are now famous for their virtuosic joie de vivre, their passion for the classical music they love so much and their humour in the way they play, as well as the not-so-quiet-and-peaceful, “and now for something completely different” way they see the world, from which their quirky chansons flow. Christmas with Salut Salon – for this collection Salut Salon have settled for quiet notes and have rearranged the pieces.
Johannes Brahms’ Spiritual Lullaby op. 91 no. 2 is one of them, as is Carl Maria von Weber‘ s Shepherd’s Lament. They sing a cappella Jul, jul, strålande jul, by Norwegian composer Gustaf Nordqvist, and play with violin bows on glasses, which creates notes from these oscillations that give this music a mysterious magic. And the traditional French Entre le boeuf et l‘âne gris by François-Auguste Gevaert also finds its place in the programme – a gentle overture to the nativity scene.
Besides Brahms, another composer features in the programme for whom the great Hamburg composer, if not exactly a role model, was certainly a seminal inspiration for his work: Ernst von Dohnányi, with Variations on a Nursery Song in C op. 25. Von Dohnányi develops a virtuosic piece for piano and large orchestra out of the structurally simple children’s song Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann, (with which children in other places serenade stars and will recognise instantly as the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star). Unlike Mozart‘s famous piano variations on the same tune Ah! vous diraije, Maman!, Dohnányi’s 25-minute work is only rarely heard. Salut Salon have conveyed the essence of his variations in their arrangement and relish with tangible joie de ivre the humour which makes the piece so special. Salut Salon is coming to town!
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg-Variation no. 19 and Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso G minor op. 6 no. 8 (Christmas Concerto) and also Antonín Dvorˇák’s Slavonic Dance op. 72 no. 2 get us in the mood for the festival of Peace on Earth. Memories are revived, yet with them grief and pain: in Claude Debussy‘s Noël des enfants qui n‘ont plus de maisons, the celebration of Christmas for homeless children, for example. Debussy wrote the lyrics and the music in December 1915 as a protest against the injustice he and his family suffered, like so many others, as a result of the First World War. Pain is also expressed in the works of Argentinean genius of nuevo tango Astor Piazzolla. This time Salut Salon have opted for the cheerful little sister of tango and offset melancholy in Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel with a little heavenly hope. Because while tango channels pain, Milonga expresses the opposite: Yo canto por no llorar! I sing so I don’t cry.
And what is the first piece of music that comes to your mind when you think of Christmas? Carol of the Bells, maybe, although that was originally not a Christmas carol at all, but a four-part Ukrainian folksong by Mykola Leontowitsch, that to this day is sung in the Ukraine for the Orthodox New Year and which - not at all Christmassy – is all about a swallow which prophesizes good tidings for the coming spring. It was only in the 1930s that the song became one of the most famous Christmas carols in the English language. Or is it Mr. Sandman, the classic number by Pat Ballard? Salut Salon have also created a new arrangement of this wonderful song and, out of little Mr. Sandman who brings the dreams, made Mr. Right. Unfortunately he’s made of snow, but he tries very hard in the lyrics of Liebster Schneemann (“Dearest Snowman”), albeit in vain, not to melt in the face of a hot love affair.
Speaking of hot – hardly any Christmas album is recorded when it’s really snowing out there. Summer, sun, silent night – Salut Salon interrupted their tour in June for this album and let Santa cool off for a while in swimming trunks: in Weihnachtssong the four virtuosos realize a dream they have long had: to celebrate Christmas in the South Seas. But it’s only Paradise for a few verses. Then palm fronds become fir tree branches and snow swirls out of burst pillows. Salut Salon is coming to town.
What a wonderful Christmas gift!