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Ástor PIAZZOLLA (1921–1992)
The Piazzolla Project
Concierto para Quinteto [9:48]
Estaciones Porteñas [25:46]
Fuga y Misterio [4:25]
Suite del Angel [19:53]
Jacques Ammon (piano); Artemis Quartet
rec. Grosser Saal der Musikhochschule Lübeck 19-20 June 2008; 6, 21 June 2004; Angelika Kaufmann Saal Schwarzenberg 11 June 2004. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 2672920 [59:52]
Experience Classicsonline


“Crossover” is a term that makes most serious musicians of any genre shudder with dread. With its implications of dumbed-down tunes packaged into easy-listening albums performed by air-brushed performers of modest ability it smacks of record companies massaging dwindling music sales figures with high volume sales. There is one composer/performer who totally transcends this limited remit – the extraordinary Ástor Piazzolla. A potted biography is quite remarkable and points to his unique talent from an early age. Born in Buenos Aires, a virtuoso on the bandoneon - a fiendishly hard-to-play kind of accordion - by thirteen, he later studied with Ginastera classical composition. Ginastera recommended he enter a composing competition; part of the prize was to go to Paris and study in turn with Nadia Boulanger. It was she who encouraged him to focus his compositional skills on tango and jazz – he wrote in a memoir; “…she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: "You idiot, that's Piazzolla!" And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.” His compositional and performing life was then dedicated to the creation of Tango Nuevo. Much to the consternation of tango traditionalists in Argentina this represented a fusion between tango and jazz. Add to that the classical rigour of form, dissonant harmony, and passages of great fugal and contrapuntal complexity. It can be seen that his music really is a fusion of styles – genuinely crossing over the boundaries between genres. Many of his compositions were written for his preferred tango band line-up of bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and bass. They follow a similar structure of fast-slow-fast-slow-coda. Over time, and as he became more famous, this seemingly limited form and instrumentation was developed by collaborations with other musicians as well as writing for the opera house and symphony orchestra.

If you have never heard any Piazzolla I really do recommend most strongly that you seek it out. His is a unique sound-world, vibrant, exultant and sensual, rhythmically exhilarating and moving. Is this the disc the place to start? Well, yes and no. Wearing my purist’s hat I have to sombrely point out that all of the music presented here are arrangements of Piazzolla, crucially missing the very instrument - the unique sound of the bandoneon - that is at the heart of his music. It could be argued this is a cross-over album of a cross-over composer. But the more you look at the Piazzolla discography the more you realise that much of his music is presented in arrangements to some degree or another and that this CD contains playing and arranging of the very highest order. Piazzolla himself was not averse to re-arranging a piece to accommodate circumstance. La Muerte del Angel I first heard on the album The New Tango – Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton where it is arranged to include Burton’s remarkable jazz vibraphone playing. Likewise there is a Chandos disc where the bandoneon part of the concerto he wrote for the instrument is transcribed for accordion. So perhaps the charge of “its an arrangement” is irrelevant – the more I listened here the more I thought that. But, and it is a big but, a piano quintet is NOT a tango band and no matter how intimately they have researched the idiom and how brilliantly they play - which they do - I miss the earthy wildness that to my ear embodies those authentic performances. Piazzolla uses muscular striding bass lines doubled in the piano and double-bass, with percussive interjections from the bandoneon combined with riotously virtuosic violin lines full of whipping glissandi and cricket-like scrapings. As much of this original colour is transferred as possible but the overall effect is tempered and I would have to say lessened. This is not music viewed through a distorting lens, rather a softening one.

I am being rather churlish here too. The quality of the playing on this disc is absolutely superb and it is helped by an excellent recording. It is quite close and analytical in an almost jazz-studio style. It is only when you turn back to the original recordings that you become aware of that last ounce of authenticity that’s missing. Which is why I am in two minds about this being a good starting point to enter Piazzolla’s musical world. If the idea of jazz/tango fusion appeals go straight to either the album I’ve mentioned above or his seminal Tango: Zero Hour which Piazzolla himself considered his career high. That album features the tracks Milonga del Angel and Concierto para Quinteto recorded here. However, this disc provides an excellent overview of music written in various periods of Piazzolla’s life. One absolutely head-scratching question though: since Piazzolla did write at least one piece Tango for Four specifically for string quartet why on earth was it not included here? The disc is only modestly filled. If his more extended orchestral work is of interest try Tangazo on Decca (468 568-2) recorded by Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. A third version of the ubiquitous Milonga del Angel appears here too. Beautifully recorded but also drifting away from the compellingly idiomatic.

To sum up the current CD; not really a first stop for the Piazzolla newbie. Too much of the original texture is changed, and not really for the dedicated follower either. Excellent though the disc is in every department I did not feel it revealed to me elements of this music missing elsewhere. That being said, it is a disc I will happily to return to for pure pleasure.

A great album prepared and played with insight and care if lacking the last drop of deliriously authentic passion.

Nick Barnard

see also Review by Jens Laursen


 

 
 


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