A Late-Romantic Christmas Eve
Elena Fink (soprano); Le Quatuor Romantique (Vassili Voronin (violin), Edward John Semon (cello), Joachim Diessner (harmonium), Markus Märkl (piano)); Wasj Ninow (violin)
rec. July 2010, Ev. Kirche Honrath
German texts and English translations included
Full details at end of review
ARS PRODUCTION ARS 38 086 SACD Hybrid [77:44]
How frequently my heart sinks at the usual Christmas CD issues! They tend to fall into two camps – the boring, which include all too familiar carols with Christmas music performed by choirs and soloists in a way virtually identical to that of so many previous choirs and soloists, and the tasteless, which can embrace just about any performer wanting to make their individual mark on the usual repertoire. Each of these groups are best avoided, but each year there are a very few issues where real imagination has been at work, and where genuine musical or historic interest can be found as well as the expected seasonal connections. The present disc, based on the idea of a middle class domestic Christmas around the year 1900, is one of those issues and will certainly be my musical companion this Christmas.
Le Quatuor Romantique comprises violin, cello, piano and harmonium. That may sound an odd combination nowadays, but, with a few other instruments added, it was a standard combination at the turn of the twentieth century, and much sheet music is available in arrangements suitable for this grouping. It was expected that ensembles would adapt them to suit the instruments they had available as has been done here. The present disc starts and ends with arrangements of music by Tchaikovsky and Humperdinck. They are played with gusto and affection, and the imaginative use of the sustaining quality and reedy sound of the harmonium makes the quartet a surprisingly effective substitute for the orchestra. Even Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy retains her essential appeal; only the Waltz of the Flowers suffers from a lack of the fuller resources of the orchestra.
Most of the rest of the disc consists of Christmas songs and instrumental music, much of it based on carol tunes. Elena Fink has a delightfully pure and fresh-sounding voice which suits most of the vocal items very well, especially the more musically straightforward songs by Lewin, Berger and Dasty. Even if there are no undiscovered masterpieces here there is certainly plenty of genuine charm and a real feeling for the season. Many of the instrumental pieces on the other hand, for instance those by Lindemann and Eilenberg, are simply salon music of the period with seasonal titles attached. It is good to hear something by Jonny Heykens apart from the usual Serenade. The instrumental “Ave Maria” is enjoyably sentimental – the booklet’s reference to its piety and earnest simplicity is perhaps an exaggeration but it certainly sticks in the memory.
The Schoenberg stands out from the rest in its much denser more contrapuntal style as well as in its use of a second violin, although like other pieces it makes use of earlier Christmas music including “Silent night”. Its quality and sincerity make it for me the highlight of the disc. The other item which stands out from the rest is the Waldteufel waltz, turned here into a vocal display piece after the manner of the “Voices of Spring” of Johann Strauss. Alas, this does not work at all, being superfluous and clumsy. Although she gets around the notes, Elena Fink’s voice becomes harsh and at times unpleasantly strident. Nonetheless, as a whole, the disc, well recorded in a suitable acoustic and with interesting booklet notes, is full of seasonal delights for anyone prepared to forego the choirs and starry soloists of most Christmas discs.

John Sheppard
Full of seasonal delights.
Full contents:
Pjotr Iljitsch TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Suite from “The Nutcracker” Op 71 arr Le Quatuor Romantique after Leopold Weninger [15:13]
Gustav LEWIN (1869-1938) Weihnachtslied “Nun ist sie endlich kommen” [2:41]
Sigismund SCHNEIDER (1897-1957) Weihnachtsmarsch arr Le Quatuor Romantique (1924) [2:25]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Weihnachtsmusik [5:45]
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933) after Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Aria “Mein gläubiges Herz” [2:36]
Adolf SCHREINER (1791-1864) Paraphrase on “Stille Nacht” arr Le Quatuor Romantique [6:12]
Wilhem BERGER (1861-1911) Weihnachtslied “Von himmel in die tiefsten Klüfte” Op 52/4 [3:56]
Arnold MENDELSSOHN (1855-1933) Weihnachtslied “Markt und Straßem steh’n verlassen” [3:15]
Wilhelm LINDERMANN (1882-1941) “Eine Muh, eine Mäh” character piece [3:15]
Jonny HEYKENS (1884-1945) Ave Maria arr Le Quatuor Romantique [4:42]
Jean Dasty (19th century) Ave Maria [5:38]
Siegfried WAGNER (1869-1930) Weihnachtslied “Was soll das bedeuten” [3:07]
Richard EILENBERG (1848-1921) “Norwegische Renntierpost” Character piece [2:52]
Emile WALDTEUFEL(1837-1915) “Les Patineurs” Concert Waltz [7:13] arr Le Quatuor Romantique
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1924) Overture to the opera “Hänsel und Gretel” arr Le Quatuor Romantique after Robert Tourbié [8:31]