If there’s one thing that makes Christmas what it is, it’s festive music and uplifting melodies: “Festive Trumpets for Christmas” is the new Christmas album from Matthias Höfs, to be released by Berlin Classics on November 5. On this new album, the trumpeter joins his brass ensemble and organist Christian Schmitt in a wide-ranging programme. The instruments of the musicians ring out in triumphal tones, brilliantly nuanced, capturing the joy and splendour of the Christmas festival. There are works by Albinoni, Handel, Vivaldi, Morales and Scheidt, along with arrangements by Peter Lawrence, Nikolaus Herman and Matthias Höfs himself.
In this programme, Matthias Höfs appears with a variety of ensemble formations, whether with trumpet quartet, with horn, trombone and tuba, or with bassoon, harpsichord and organ – amply portraying the differing characteristics of the instruments and their richness of timbre. The sensitivity with which the musicians listen to one another, for fine shading of the interpretation, creates an atmosphere of touching intimacy, of concentration on the heart of the Christmas message: Unto us a child is born.
Höfs aims to convey the German tradition as such, both in sound and style: “In the age of globalisation, in which everything is geared to international exchange, I should like to make my contribution to the preservation of this typical sound and culture.” The programme reflects his wish. He reveals the trumpet’s aptitude for chamber music in his arrangements of Baroque sonatas by Albinoni and Handel. They are well matched with the Canzon Cornetto for four trumpets by Samuel Scheidt and the familiar Advent and Christmas carols “Maria durch ein’ Dornwald ging”, “Es kommt ein Schiff, geladen” and “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, alle gleich”, arranged by Peter Lawrence. It was in 2020 that Matthias Höfs commissioned “The North Star Suite” by Erik Morales, and this is the work’s premiere recording. Its composer writes of the suite: “The piece is not intended to be a mere arrangement of Bach’s masterpiece, but rather to display the greatness of his music in a new, creative manner.” Another well known piece is the Advent song “Tochter Zion”, which has gone through a variety of manifestations over the centuries. The carol was set for choir by Handel in London in 1747; in 1797, Beethoven wrote twelve variations for cello and piano on the tune.
The dynamic range of the musicians and their richness of sound are astonishing. Playing with soft mutes, the winds rival string pianissimo, yet they can play without microphones in the open air. “Brass is enormously versatile,” says Höfs. “We have choirs of trombones for the church services that celebrate the great festivals of the Christian year. For secular festivals, we have brass music and big bands. Music for brass reaches a wide audience.” What instrument can embody the radiant splendour of Christmas music like the trumpet? Its brilliance and carrying power are inseparable from the Christmas season and year after year, make the Good News known once more.