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Misa Tango

Adios Nonino (Orch. Luis Bacalov)
Libertango (Orch. Luis Bacalov)
Anna Maria Martinez (mezzo), Placido Domingo (tenor), Hector Ulises Passarella (bandoneon), Luis Bacalov (piano)
Chorus and Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Myung-Whun Chung
recorded 2/1999 in Rome at the Auditorio di Via della Conciliazione.
DG 463 471-2  [53.48]

If you were a recording executive of a German Company approached to produce a disc in Italy by a Jewish Argentinian resident in Italy, of a religious mass written in the form of a tango, and have the whole lot conducted by a Korean conductor, what would you do? Probably not bother. However, DG has had the idea of using one of its best selling artists, Placido Domingo to front this disc. Domingo has well known Spanish/South American sympathies. I hope that this issue becomes popular. It is highly entertaining once you have got past the initial feelings of conservatism which many of us "classical buffs" are prone to deny.

The main work is the Misa Tango written in 1997, and this recording was made about the same time as the European premiere in 1999. Apart from the tango rhythms throughout the work the other distinctive features are the prominence of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument which has come to represent the sound of the tango.

The Mass is in the usual sections although the composer has chosen not to set the whole of the text. This is explained by the rather pretentious sleeve note. The composer wanted the work to be accessible not just to Christians but to other faiths as well. The Mass is set in Spanish (reflecting the composer's South American origins), so if you are a Tibetan Buddhist, I can see no help whatsoever by changing the text and translating it into Spanish. No matter, this is probably more a case of my displaying crustiness rather than anything else.

Bacalov has also composed film scores and has received an Oscar for one of them. This shows me the source of the main drive for this music. What we hear are rhythms of the tango and these are 'justified' in the pretentious sleevenote as a reaction to Christianity driving out all dance from the liturgy. 'Justification' of this type is quite unnecessary if the music is interesting and enjoyable. With its film music atmosphere you know what to expect.

There are no competitive recordings to compare. Notwithstanding, the performance seems to be first rate, with the Italian choir managing the Spanish text closely enough not to cause major problems, and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra dancing along with sufficient abandon for the music not to sound inhibited.

Placido Domingo sounds his usual superb self, and is complemented by Ana Maria Martinez who is likewise first class. The disc is completed by three short tangos - all very pleasant to listen to and should give much enjoyment, supplemented as they are by the composer on the piano.


John Phillips

        • Summary A very unusual record of a religious mass written in tango rhythm, recorded in the presence of the composer, and superbly performed by Domingo and Martinez.

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