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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Michelangelo 70 (arr. Bernard Chmielarz) [3:09]
Tres piezas para orquesta de camara (arr. José Bragato): (I. Preludio: Lento [8:22]; II. Divertimento: Allegro molto [6:32]; III. Fuga: Allegro [2:56])
Concierto del angel (arr. Chmielarz/Bragato/Frankowski): (I. Milonga del Angel [6:56]; II. La muerte del Angel [3:00]; III. Resurrección del Angel [8:36])
Oblivion (arr.
Grzegorz Frankowski) [4:14]
Revolucionario (arr. Grzegorz Frankowski) [4:56]
Bonus track: DVD Teledisc of Piazzoforte Project (Video)
Piazzoforte: (Kevin Kenner (piano); Pawel Wajrak (violin); Maciej Lulek (violin); Ryszard Sneka (viola); Konrad Górka (cello); Grzegorz Frankowski (double-bass))
rec. 28-29 September 2005, Cracow Music Academy, Poland. DDD
DUX 0548 [49:03]



The Dux label recorded these Astor Piazzolla scores in 2005 with the appropriately named ensemble Piazzoforte whose line-up includes a concertante piano.

Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921. He was four when he and his family emigrated to New York City returning to Mar del Plata in his fifteenth year. Who was to know just how inspired was his father’s decision to purchase the eight year old Astor a second-hand bandoneón from a pawn shop. He would become without doubt the most renowned tango musician and composer in the world.

The origin of the tango has not been definitively identified. It remains an enigma. Although music historians disagree as to its exact origins it is generally accepted that the tango was borrowed from many places and cultures. This is all part of its mystery and seduction. It is often depicted as an unashamedly sensual dance epitomising the glamour and elegance of high society women in glittering cocktail dresses and men wearing tailcoats and bow ties in velvet-walled concert halls and soft-cushioned drawing rooms. In reality the tango is most likely to have evolved among society’s underclass: the seedy brothels of the Argentinean seaports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

In the late nineteen-fifties the music of Argentina, especially that of Buenos Aires, took a radical turn. Youth culture demanded music more relevant to their world. Musicians such as Piazzolla responded with nuevo tango, instrumentals that expanded the boundaries of the largely vocal music then popular throughout the world. It represented a return to the organic roots, a style conceived in back street bordellos and more suited to the street than to the salon in the chaotic tableau of Buenos Aires life. 

Piazzolla and the word tango are synonymous as he based virtually all his works on the genre, achieving towering artistic heights and great critical acclaim. Andrès Segovia (1893-1987) is reported to have stated about the tango, “what mysterious music and what exceptional poetry.” The popularity and status of the tango has fluctuated greatly over the years but thanks primarily to the classically trained Piazzolla the tango is enjoying another major renaissance and has become highly fashionable in many countries.

On this Dux release we are informed that American concert pianist Kevin Kenner, a Chopin specialist, became greatly inspired by the music of Piazzolla as a result of, “attending an unforgettable concert … compellingly performed” by double-bassist Grzegorz Frankowski and his tango ensemble in 2003. The booklet notes leave much to be desired and contain virtually no information on these Piazzolla works. That said it seems clear that these scores are performed in versions by various arrangers for piano and string quartet, comprising two violins, viola, cello and double-bass.

The opening work Michelangelo 70, in a version arranged by Bernard Chmielarz, is the finest and most memorable on the set. Piazzoforte provide a heady atmosphere in what is a breezy and exhilarating performance.

The Tres piezas para orquesta de camara are performed in a version arranged by José Bragato. The substantial Preludio: Lento feels crowded, intense and unremarkable, and the briskly rhythmic and lyrical central piece Divertimento: Allegro molto develops a slower heady atmosphere from around 2:20. The short closing score Fuga: Allegro is from the start curiously reminiscent of native American music rather than the Argentine tango. Furious playing by Piazzoforte from 1:47 conveys an excitement that is soon overshadowed by a feeling of heavy congestion.

Arranged by the trio of Bernard Chmielarz, José Bragato and Grzegorz Frankowski the Concierto del angel is cast in three movements. Milonga del Angel is a languid, sultry and rather engaging movement, followed by the short La muerte del Angel. This opens briskly and forcefully, changing between 1:04-2:01 to a more jazzy tone. The lengthy Resurrección del Angel seems to gently float off without any real sense of direction. The score in parts gains in momentum before reverting to its rudderless excursion.

Grzegorz Frankowski’s arrangement of the score Oblivion is given a hot and steamy performance but the medium-paced music feels unexceptional. The final score is Revolucionario also in an arrangement by Grzegorz Frankowski. This busy and reasonably energetic, verging full tango flavour.

Overall I found this disc disappointing. It was hard to imagine two dancers in an intimate embrace, moving seductively across the dance floor of a back street Buenos Aires bar. I kept asking myself where is that abundance of heart and soul with a true spirit of the Tango? 

I do not think for a minute that tango music has to be exclusively performed by Argentinean or Latin-American performers. However as a tango traditionalist I am always saddened when an ensemble, such as Piazzoforte, choose not to use the traditional bandoneón; an instrument that Piazzolla played so expertly.

Over the last couple of years I have come across two releases of mainly Piazzolla scores that I can recommend to those wishing to explore twentieth century Argentine tango music further. Although using an accordion rather than a bandoneón the duo of Milla Viljamaa and pianist Johanna Juhola have arranged and excitingly perform twelve mainly Piazzolla tango scores. Recorded in 2003 at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki on Finlandia Records 2564-60268-2 this remarkable disc has caused considerable excitement when I have played selections at recorded music societies. In addition the ensemble Tango Dorado, under the direction of bandoneón player Christian van Hemert, perform twenty three scores, that include ten from Piazzolla. The double set on Brilliant Classics 6933 was recorded in 2004 at The Hague and also evidently recorded live in Amsterdam.

The engineers have provided a bright and slightly close recorded sound for this Dux release. It contains a tenth ‘bonus track’ that is described as a ‘DVD Teledisc of Piazzoforte Project (Video)’ that wouldn’t operate on my standard DVD players and with less than fifty minutes playing time this proves to be rather short measure. The performances just don’t come anywhere close to communicating the special mystery of the tango.

Michael Cookson


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