Album Title: Julevariasjoner
Performer: Wolfgang Plagge
Label: 2L
Playing time: 48'04"
Recorded: Sofienberg Church, October 2005

I am not very familiar with piano variations on traditional Christmas songs and even less so with traditional Norwegian carols. Maybe Christmas songs are different from one nation to another. Of course the relationship to Christmas and the cultural background of North European countries facilitates an approach of calm and serenity, family and religion. Each native from these countries knows and remembers the particular musical traditions of Christmas.

But more than a sampler of European Christmas carols, pianist Wolfgang Plagge invites us on a journey into various European musical sensibilities. As often happens with 2L outings, Julevariasjoner (translated as Christmas Variations) leads you into an intimate atmosphere. From the first notes, you feel suddenly alone in the listening room with the pianist and his expansive sound. All the same, even if your ears remain in the listening room, your soul is traveling to the Northern parts of Europe, mostly Norway of course but also a few other places to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The artistic oeuvre of Wolfgang Plagge spans from liturgic to symphonic works, chamber to piano music. His particular love for and research into the Medieval music of Northern Europe became inspirational for a substantial number of works and still is. A few arrangements in Julevariasjoner recall medieval airs even though for the most part, the setting is fairly modern.

On this SACD, Plagge attempts something difficult - to create interest for old stuff. You might find some of his personal emotions and also specific interest for composers from Bach to Debussy. What seems simple at first glance is often not so obvious. This is not an essential album of course but Plagge’s approach is interesting.

All cuts seem to be the result of spontaneously improvised variations on Christmas songs. I am nevertheless unsure whether we are indeed dealing with spontaneous improv or rather, mature composing exercises. How Plagge delivers each piece simply occurs in a peaceful and relaxed climate to convey the impression of a natural and spontaneous arising. This album is also a superb opportunity to discover some beautiful Christmas songs.

.“Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker” performed in Debussian impressionism is one of them. The two last tracks “Du Vaere Lovet” and "Folkefrelsar" are truly compelling performances. As Norwegian songs were unfamiliar to me, I explored Google and YouTube to gain a better notion of Plagge's starting point. I was quite surprised to recognize each Christmas song with ease. In fact, Plagge worked particularly with the arrangements but mostly respected the melodic and harmonic integrity of each piece. I believe the appeal of Julevariasjoner is twofold. On one side, it is a way to consciously reclaim these traditional songs which are too often slaughtered by  childrens' choirs. On the other side, the sequencing of tracks is a kind of journey from a very traditional climate to greater modernity served by a very realistic recording. The purpose of Christmas songs is to imbue a home with natural serenity and peace. This purpose is definitely well served by Julevariasjoner and maybe with greater realism than any choral recording could deliver to your listening room. Even if these compositions do no present any extraordinary technical complexity, it is far from a simple exercise and the performer's results are very satisfying and commendable.