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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
1. Oblivion
2. Adios Nonino
3. Revirado
4. Buenos Aires Hora O
5. Romance del Diablo
6. Introduccion el Angel
7. Milonga del Angel
8. La Muerte del Angel
9. Tango III; Allegretto molto marcato
10.Otono Porteno
11.Chiquilin de Bachin
12.Le Grand Tango
13.Violentango
14.Undertango
15.Libertango
Tango For Four (Jaakko Kuusisto, violin, Mika Väyrynen, accordion, Kalle Elkomaa, piano, Jaan Wessman, bass) 2,3,4,5,7,10,11,15
Emiko Mizuki and Izumi Tateno, pianos 6,8,13,14
Marko Ylönen, cello and Martti Rautio, piano 12
Mika Väyrynen, accordion Kuopio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Atso Almila 1,9
Recorded between 1999-2001, no recording dates or locations specified
APEX 0927 44232 2 [76.52]

I am a very sceptical admirer of Astor Piazzolla’s talent. That he had a persuasive and powerfully lyrical gift is not in doubt, that his over-extended attempts at orchestral grandiosity fracture at every turn is equally unquestionable. Added to this is the Nadia Boulanger influence – indistinct, at least in compositional terms – and Piazzolla’s supposed invention of the tango nuevo, that talismanic post-War convenience that supposedly liberated the tango from its hidebound somnambulism.

Here at least in this disc Piazzolla’s gifts are kept within their natural boundaries. Fifteen Piazzolla miniatures are vastly preferable to the sprawling monsters of his orchestral daydreams (witness Dutoit’s recent beautifully played Piazzolla disc, an exercise in almost total vacuity). But in this disc, constrained by form and by instrumental necessity, a much more sympathetic composer emerges, at least to me, and one whose romantic sensibility is attractive and welcome. Clearly deriving from several discs – hazy documentation bedevils the production – the bulk of the works are entrusted to Tango For Four, a quartet of like-minded adventurers amongst whose members is the excellent violinist Jaakko Kuusisto. They tackle the songs on their own terms, arranging them themselves, and engendering real drive and vigour. That said the disc gets off to a leaden start with the inexcusably anodyne Oblivion – never was a title more aptly chosen – in which the talents of the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra are copiously misplaced. And indeed even Piazzolla’s Greatest Hit, Adios Nonino, which can otherwise emerge with elegiac intimacy, is pummeled into overstatement and over baked drama. Revirado is busy and humorous but is visited by Jaan Wessman’s electric bass – it’s not noted as such but the horrible buzz of the instrument is a regrettable feature of Tango for Four’s instrumentation throughout and is particularly unpleasant here.

Thereafter things begin to improve. Buenos Aires Hora O opens in splendidly ominous fashion, the violin sings in alt – and in tune – and the piece is both descriptive and satisfyingly complete in itself. Romance del Diablo is quite simply an exquisitely beautiful piece of music. Introduccion el Angel hints strongly at Bach – with a ground bass and some strongly eruptive material whereas Milonga del Angel opens in light cosmopolitan jazz style – tango nuevo’s alleged affinities to and absorption of jazz idioms are generally grossly overstated. Nevertheless a beautiful and effulgent tune emerges in this piece that would silence the hardest of hearts. Piazzolla’s interest in and exploitation of the Fugue in his tangos has often been overlooked. There is a multiplicity of evidence here to support the contention that what he was trying to do with the fugue in his works was implicitly far more telling than any supposed appropriation of jazz elements. Otono Porteno is an infectious and shiveringly semi-descriptive piece of season setting. From the autumnal accordion and the succulent full toned violin Piazzolla evokes the fall of the leaf and bite of the wind. Le Grand Tango is a ten-minute piece for cello and orchestra written for Rostropovich. Rhapsodic and relatively demanding it explores a middle section seemingly inspired by that cellist’s legendary heart warming lyricism.

All performers are committed exponents and the sound quality, whilst from different source material, is fine. Documentation misses those all-important details but is otherwise – briefly – informative if, as ever, long on Piazzolla’s compositional primacy and short on much evidence of it. But there are some things here that will linger long in the mind; my scepticism remains intact but is tempered by such as Romance del Diablo and by Piazzolla’s great gift for ravishing simplicity.

Jonathan Woolf


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