OKTETTEN EHNSTEDTS EFTR.
Kring julgran (Swedish Society)
The title means “Around the Christmas Tree,” and it introduces the most unanticipated, charming surprise to emerge from this year’s stack of Christmas releases. King Oscar II ruled over Sweden from 1872 to 1907, which we would think of as the late Victorian period, and, the program notes tell us, his reign “coincided with the heyday of Swedish wind octets.” Who knew? During the Oscarian Era these ensembles kept busy during the winter holidays, providing music in ballrooms and skating rinks. One of the most popular was led by Magnus Herman Ehnstedt, after whom is named the group featured on this CD, the Oktetten Ehnstedts Eftr. (Ehnstedt’s Successors Octet). The accomplished performers play on period instruments — specifically, the classic Swedish grouping of flute, two clarinets, cornet, alto/tenor horn, two valved trombones, and tuba — and their sound combines the refined and the raucous in a way that proves unfussy and warm-hearted. The repertoire, drawn from handwritten part books, includes familiar items like waltzes by Strauss and Waldteufel (his Skridskoåkarne, which you know as The Skaters’ Waltz), but special pleasure comes from discovering pieces by such obscure Swedish composers as Carl Johan Nylén, represented by his mazurka “Gamla och nya året” (”The Old Year and the New”), and Carl Fredrik Ringvall, whose polka “Kring julgran” serves as the title track and celebrates the then-new custom of indoor Christmas trees. — J.M.K.