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Expressia: Tangos and Fantasies
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Escualo (Ritmo Libre) [4:31]; Romance del Diablo [6:43]; Tango del Diablo [3:18]; Poem [6:00]; Muerte del Angel [3:31]; Concerto Para Quinteto [10:33]; Carlos GARDEL (1887-1935) arr. Armen Babakhanian Tango Por Una Cabeza [4 :41]; Narine ZARIFIAN (b. 1958) Tango Expressia [3:38]; Hector STAMPONI (1916-1970) arr. Armen Babakhanian Tango - El Ultimo Cafe [5:48]; George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) arr. Armen Babakhanian Fantasy on Themes of Porgy and Bess [9:03]
Cadence Ensemble
rec. 14-18 October 2007, Abbey Road Studios, London. DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD140 [57:54]
Experience Classicsonline

The disc opens with a bold tango, full of syncopated rhythms and repeated melodic patterns. The Cadence Ensemble's sound fuses the traditional Tango combination of violin, piano, accordion, guitar and double bass. This Armenian group was formed in 2004 and has already achieved much success. Originally established to focus on the music of Astor Piazzolla, they play with a good understanding of that composer's work. Following the opening Escualo, and providing a wonderful contrast, the expressive Romance del Diablo is slow-paced with rich harmonies and beautifully phrased melodies. Tango del Diablo is turbulent, with violent off-beat chords, dramatic glissandi and some wonderfully dissonant harmonies. The variety in Piazzolla's language is impressive, as is his clear imagination for colour and light. This is a theatrical work, which is performed with precision and flair. 
Poem opens as if introducing a scene in a jazz piano bar; there is a distinct atmosphere of a smoky basement venue straight out of a black and white film. The instruments enter one by one, first piano, then guitar, then violin and finally accordion, taking over the melodic interest. The music smoulders, Piazzolla providing wonderfully evocative material for these talented performers. Once again demonstrating intelligent programming, Muerte del Angel follows, an upbeat, rhythmic work, full of energy and panache. This is an exuberant performance which sweeps listeners up in its path and carries them along with the momentum of the music. Concerto Para Quinteto is a ten and a half minute long work, formed of alternating fast-slow-fast sections. Although enjoyable, this was the least successful of the Piazzolla pieces here, as it failed to hold my attention throughout.

Carlos Gardel's Tango Por Una Cabeza seemed remarkably familiar; the music is lighter and perhaps more sentimental than Piazzolla's and there is something of a distinctly Italian flavour. Gardel was a prominent figure in the development of the Tango before Piazzolla's time, and there is certainly a more traditional feel in this music than Piazzolla's.

Narine Zarifian's Tango Expressia, the title track of the disc, has an almost symphonic feel, and this is a committed performance. Zarifian is a female Armenian composer, born in 1958 and currently a professor at the Yerevan State Conservatory. There is a sense of life in her music, and she captures the essence of Piazzolla's music and gives it her own personal twist. It is encouraging to see that composition in the Tango style is still alive and well.

Hector Stamponi was a contemporary of Piazzolla's. His Tango El Ultimo Café is performed with a hint of nostalgia, and brings to mind buskers on a Parisian street on a warm summer day. The disc ends with Armen Babakhanian's arrangement of themes from Porgy and Bess. The pianist in the ensemble, Babakhanian's treatment of Summertime is well considered and makes use of the varied instrumental sounds from this combination of players. Other well-known melodies follow, and although Gershwin's music seems a little incongruous in the context of so many Tangos, the arrangement works well and is bound to be a crowd-pleaser.

Carla Rees 


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