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Tango Buenos Aires: Fernando Bruguera (piano), Martin Sued (bandoneón), Cesar Rago, (violin), Andres Serafini (bass), Ismael Grossman (guitar), arrangements by Emilio Kauderer, Tango Buenos Aires dancers, presented by Cal Performances. Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. California, 21.1.2011 (HS)


When tango shows first started touring theaters in the late 1980s, part of the thrill, aside from the slinky, sexy dancing and romantically revealing costumes, was hearing the music arranged and played by classically trained musicians. At first it featured full orchestras. The touring Tango Buenos Aires show, which performed Friday at a sold-out Zellerbach Hall under the banner of Cal Performances, generated as much excitement in arrangements for five musicians.

The dancers were good, the musicians astonishing in their virtuosity, combining impeccable musicianship with the passion and rhythmic thrust often missing from these dancers. The players got more enthusiastic applause than the dancers did.

Tango music has long fascinated classical composers. What piano student has not struggled to breathe life into the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz’s famous and delicate tango from
España? Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, John Cage, John Harbison, William Bolcom and even Milton Babbitt have adapted the form to their own uses. Scott Joplin, known for his rags, wrote a haunting tango, “Solace.” The Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, a contemporary of Joplin’s, wrote a whole book of memorable piano tangos.

And then there is Astor Piazzolla, a tango composer born in Mar la Plata, Argentina, who has most successfully bridged the tango’s popular roots with the classical music world. Jazz, too, it must be noted. Chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras and new music groups all have played his music enthusiastically (if not always idiomatically). Like many of the great composers of the twentieth century, he studied with Nadia Boulanger. Although his “nuevo tango” approach, which incorporated sounds not previously heard in traditional versions of the dance, originally baffled some fans, it now is difficult to find a tango concert without at least a few of his works.

The Tango Buenos Aires quintet played six of his pieces among some two dozen on the program, and those were the standouts. Beyond that, the arrangements of other works by Emilio Kauderer (a composer known for his film scores, including the Oscar-winning
The Secret in Their Eyes) wove the bold harmonies and rhythmic gestures of nuevo tango into such traditional fare as “El Choclo” and “Por una cabeza,” making them feel like something new. Kauderer’s own “Todos Sacan” fit seamlessly between two Piazzolla pieces and provided a drivingly rhythmic foundation for a dance featuring the five men in the company.

Most impressive among the quintet’s musicians were bandoneón player Martin Sued, whose solo inspired by Piazzolla opened the second half arrestingly, and pianist Fernando Bruguera, who managed to transcend tinny amplification to enliven his solos and drive the music nicely. Violinist Cesar Rago and bassist Andres Serafini had their moments, and guitarist Ismael Grossman mostly provided background filigree.

The dancers looked great and moved with precision, but the passion of the tango surfaced only here and there—and most often to Piazzolla’s music. “Zum” found principal dancers Cythia Avila and Mauricio Celis heating up the stage with the most seductiveness in the second half. And the finale, to “Verano Porteño,” brought matters to a high-temperature close.

Harvey Steiman


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