One of the performers I singled out in my recent piece on the new ECM CD of music from the documentary film, Sounds and Silence – Travels with Manfred Eicher, was the Argentinian bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. Saluzzi was represented by two tracks from his own ECM CD, Ojos Negros, a collection of duets, which he performed with the German cellist Anja Lechner. On Saluzzi’s latest ECM CD, Navidad de Los Andes (Christmas in the Andes), he is again joined by Lechner, as will as his younger brother Felix, who performs on both clarinet and tenor saxophone. This amounts to one of the more transnational Christmas offerings of the season, made all the more so because it was recorded south of the Swiss Alps at the studios of Radiotelevisione svizzera in Lugano.
One may also call this a transcendental (in the sense of Franz Liszt) collection of reflections on the Nativity, none of which draw on any of the Christmas music likely to be recognized by most listeners. Indeed, through the Argentinian bandoneón, the traditional genre of the carol is replaced by that of the tango, complete with the broad spectrum of emotions that this characteristically Argentinian dance evokes. That spectrum is realized through the extent to which all four instruments are melody instruments (with the bandoneón also capable of playing chords), each of which commands a variety of different sonorities in its different registers. Throughout the recording these sonorities weave among each other in thoroughly captivating, and often unique, combinations, which quickly seize and hold the attention of the serious listener.
Thus, while none of the tracks on Navidad de los Andes, all of which were either composed or arranged by Dino Saluzzi, would ever be confused with the music of Olivier Messiaen, the overall spirit of the recording is very similar to that of the latter’s Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant-Jésus, which is just as transcendental a series of reflections on the Nativity. What the tango brings to those reflections that we do not find in Messiaen, however, is a seductively haunting sense of nostalgia. While Lechner may not, herself, be Argentinian, her cello is as much at home with those haunting qualities as are the instruments of the two Saluzzi’s. This music may not send you off with an urge to read Clement Clarke Moore, but it may easily leave you pondering the miracle of the Nativity with the same intense devotion that motivated Messiaen.