“Salon music – a genre ranging from original compositions to arrangements of orchestral works … was a phenomenon found all over Europe. The world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had an astounding appetite for light music. Every hotel and restaurant of note, both in cities and seaside resorts, had its own orchestra, playing both popular tunes and well loved older compositions.”
Salonorchester Schwanen
Georg Huber


Recorded in Germany – Volume 1 on 10 & 11 August 1999 in Festhalle des Psychiatrischen Zentrums Nordbaden, Wiesloch; Volume 2 on 9-11 February 2001 in Tonstudio Teeje van Geest, Sandhausen
CD No: NAXOS 8.554756
& 8.555344
Duration:
Reviewed: March 2003
We live with noise pollution all around us. Switch on the TV and every producer seems to think that loud rock music will attract us to watch. Wrong! That said, there’s much more chance of finding adverts or previews – loud, bright, superficial, and often aimed at the gutter. There was a time, as exemplified by these CDs, when elegance abounded, when the environment was quieter and time seemed to be in less of a hurry. The idea of taking afternoon tea serenaded by a small group of musicians probably seems a laughable notion today; and the idea of it being accompanied by ’real’ music even sillier.
Cutting to the chase, what we have here are two CDs (with a third not far away I understand) – a collection of light music that relies on a good tune to make its impression. Original compositions or arrangements of popular fare, which are “easy on the ear”, written with craft, rather more than background, and with some musical small print to savour. The sound and taste epitomise a particular era – the mind conjures Victorian images – and while one can smile at the triteness of some of the invention, or even become a little snobbish over the re-use of original material, one can also hanker for earlier sensibilities before our techno, de-humanising times came along.
Named after an inn, Salonorchester Schwanen, a thriving group it seems, is made up of some damn good players. The accordion makes a lovely sound – real street-cafĂ© stuff – and whether it’s the gentle crooning of some numbers or the vaudeville of others, here’s an ensemble that really pervades style and charm. The performances are splendid, played with affection, sensitivity and brio. Piano curlicues, gentle percussion, beguiling flute and violin solos, the delectation of a pretty tune … this is afternoon tea served on a silver tray. Some exotica peps things up, but manners are always impeccable and the etiquette is textbook.
Many of the pieces on these CDs will be known by ear if not name. Waldteufel’s Skaters’ Waltz works very well, the ’pit’ sound quite appropriate. The original pieces are usually in ditty or languorous mould, while the arrangements of ’classics’, if a world away from the original, are decorously re-fashioned with craft – and played sweetly, lovingly and with a tear-stained view of yesteryear.
Serenades, waltzes and other dances abound; trifles these may be but nothing bangs or thumps. Volume 2 is actually a bit racy – tangos and smoochy clarinets – with visits to Switzerland and Italy, blue skies by day, candlelit bars by night. A couple of Leroy Anderson numbers – Blue Tango and Belle of the Ball – are not so convincing, largely because his original orchestrations are indelible – but the tunes are respectfully intact.
Sometimes with repertoire that is ’fixed’ to its time – and this is – one can feel remote to it and also cringe at approximate playing. Not on this occasion, for Salonorchester Schwanen is first-rate in technical terms and the musicians clearly love what they do and have a genuine rapport for stylistic niceties. So, switch the telly off, find a teapot (or mix a cocktail!), join in the fun – and escape!

 

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