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Tango Goes Symphony
Angel VILLOLDO/Enrique DISCEPOLO/Juan Carlos CATAN El hoclo
La Cumparsita

Peter BREINER/Ján ŠTRASSER Miss Mendacity
Julián PLAZA Nostalgico
Astor PIAZZOLLA Adios, Nonino
La milonga y yo

Pascual De GRILLO
Lágrimas y sonrisas

Cole PORTER So in Love
Astor PIAZZOLLA Oblivion
Jacob GADE Jealousy Tango
Astor PIAZZOLLA Lo que vendra
Alfredo GOBBI Oriando Goni
Francisco CANARO
Nobleza de Arrabal

Julián PLAZA Melancolico
Şefika Kutluer, Flute
Juraj Bartoŝ, Trumpet; Cyril Źelenák, Drums; Juraj Griglák; Boris Lenko, Accordion

Razumovsky Orchestra/Peter Breiner (piano and conductor)
All tracks arranged by Peter Breiner
Recorded Bratislava, October 2001
NAXOS LIGHT CLASSICS 8.557004 [67 09]


This is a typical Naxos production: a disc of quintessentially South American music rearranged and played by East European musicians. The result is fun, but...

Tango is a difficult thing to define. To some it is a dance, others a type of dance music. To Argentinians it is both those, or more strictly a combination of the two. Yet so much more - a sort of cultural essence that is full of seeming contradictions. It is sleazy and smart, formal and sexually anarchic, street/club music and concert hall music.

The history of tango, which is not a great deal more than a century old, has been one of a general smartening up that has taken the dance from the streets and dives of Buenos Aires’ poor docklands to the ballroom, and the music to the concert hall. Nowadays it belongs in all those places – flexibility is part of that essence.

As far as the music goes, the most famous name in the smartening up process is Astor Piazzolla who died ten years ago. He took himself seriously as a composer (a one-time pupil of Nadia Boulanger in Paris, would you believe) and used the tango as the basis of much of his work. In a way he is indulging a kind of cross-over activity. "Cross-over" is not a term I like but I cannot think of another. It can mean a number of things, the "classicalisation" of jazz is an example. I suspect Piazzolla thought he was doing something just as much the other way round. He said that if he were to write a baroque-style fugue it would become "tanguificated" (sic). This is why the title of the disc, Tango goes Symphony, at least in Piazzolla terms, is something of a tautology – if it means anything at all. All the more strange then that Piazzolla’s piece, Tangazo, is not included because it was specifically written as a symphonic study – so symphonic indeed that it has a slow introduction for strings that is in exactly the same language as the opening of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. In fact it sounds dangerously like a parody of it.

Instead, with the three pieces by Piazzolla we get a guitar solo (Adios, Nonino) rearranged for trumpet and piano and a piano piece which here acquires strings and flute. The third piece, Oblivion, which Piazzolla did write for symphony orchestra is rearranged so that its solo oboe is switched to flute. And so what appears to be the raison d’être for the disc is revealed – it is a vehicle for the Turkish flautist, Şefika Kutluer. In arranging the pieces for her, Peter Breiner ensures that as the pianist (as well as conductor) he has plenty of juicy bits for himself. Well he would, wouldn’t he. It is no bad thing for his piano playing was one of the things I thought most enjoyable about the disc.

Certainly Peter Breiner makes the most of Kutluer’s talent, providing her with mini cadenzas and a range of special effects including flutter-tonguing which suits the music very well. The booklet notes are a trifle defensive about such arrangements of the pieces. For example with reference to Oblivion: "Kutluer proves that what was intended for oboe works equally well on the flute". I do not agree. The piece has a poignancy which loses some of that quality without the oboe’s reedyness but that is not Kutluer’s fault. "Throughout the album, her richly rounded tone falls beautifully upon the ear" – an angular phrase, but I would not argue with the sentiment. She is an outstanding flautist.

The chosen fourteen pieces contrast well and Peter Breiner has ensured that there is plenty of contrasting instrumental colour which helps to overcome the ubiquity of the flute.

Most people will find something familiar on the disc. Rodriguez’s La Cumparsita is one of the most famous of tango pieces together with Jacob Gade’s Jealousy. Cole Porter’s So in Love from Kiss me Kate is there and two other pieces quote respectively from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. So we have an enjoyable, eclectic package performed with polish and the recorded sound has both bloom and zest to it. But …

Not long ago I was in Buenos Aires and went on to the old San Telmo district which is where it all happens on a Sunday morning – street theatre, stalls galore, pavement singers, and of course, tango: amicrocosm of Argentinian culture. There was a little area set aside for tangoing. Experts were able to show off to the gathered crowd and a woman was there to encourage any uncertain passer-by into an instant lesson – a sort of street master class (tango is not something you just go and do – like launching into a bop). The men who provided the live band looked as if they had been dragged out of bed after a major South American Saturday night out – or more likely they hadn’t been to bed at all. They often played dreadfully out of tune but never did they loose that sense of mood and panache that has got to stem from something in the blood.

Peter Breiner et al never play out of tune but without the requisite genes the pinch of je ne sais quoi that makes tango what it is, is missing. But to be fair, a studio in Bratislava is not a street with a crowd in Buenos Aires. I suppose there is in operation that mysterious, impenetrable law that ensures that ouzo and retsina never taste the same outside Greece. Perhaps I am being irrationally wistful. I still enjoyed the disc.

John Leeman


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