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Piazzolla Passage
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Fuga y misterio
Jeanne y Paul
Guardia Nueva
Balada para un loco
S.V.P./Avaruustango (section composed by Johanna Juhola)
Johanna JUHOLA (b. 1978)

Milonga Sylvia
Irti tangosta
Tobias MORGENSTERN (b. 1960)

Milla Viljamaa (accordion)
Johanna Juhola (piano)
All tracks arranged by Juhola and Viljamaa.
Rec. Sibelius Academy R-house, Chamber Music Hall, Helsinki, 1-9 Feb 2003. DDD
FINLANDIA RECORDS 2564-60268-2 [60:35]


Finlandia Records are to be congratulated on releasing Piazzolla Passage, a recording of tango music for accordion and piano the vast majority of which was composed by Astor Piazzolla with two pieces from accordion soloist Johanna Juhola and one work by Tobias Morgenstern.

Born in Argentina in 1921 Astor Piazzolla was four when he and his family emigrated to New York City returning in his fifteenth year. Who was to know just how inspired was his father’s decision to purchase the eight year old Astor a second-hand bandoneón from a pawn shop and that he would become the most renowned tango musician and composer in the world.

The origin of the tango has not been answered with a definitive connection and remains an enigma. Although musical historians disagree as to its exact origins it is generally accepted that the tango was borrowed from many places and cultures. This is all part of the tango’s mystery and seduction. Its image is that of a dance so unashamedly sensual in character which epitomises the glamour and elegance of high society with women wearing glittering evening dresses and men wearing tuxedos with tails in velvet-walled concert halls and the soft-cushioned drawing room. However the tango most likely evolved in society’s underclass; such as the seedy brothels of the Argentinean seaports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

In the late fifties the music of Buenos Aires took a radical turn, as the youth culture of the country demanded a music more relevant to their world. Musicians such as Astor Piazzolla responded with nuevo tango, music that expanded the boundaries of the primarily vocal music then popular throughout the world. It also was a return to the organic roots of the music, a style conceived in the bordellos and more suited to the pavements rather than the salon in the chaotic tableau of Buenos Aires life.

Astor Piazzolla and the word ‘tango’ are synonymous. Having based virtually all his works on the tango he achieved towering artistic heights and met great critical acclaim. World famous guitarist Andrès Segovia (1893-1987) is reported to have stated about the tango, "what mysterious music and what exceptional poetry." The tango’s popularity and status has fluctuated greatly over the years but thanks primarily to the music of the classically trained Piazzolla it is enjoying another major international renaissance and is currently extremely fashionable, certainly in the UK.

Astor Piazzolla’s appealing S.V. P./Avaruustango (track 7) and Dando (track 10) shows romance and aggression which is blended so effectively almost turning to ecstasy. In Bandoneón (track 8) there is a really steamy atmosphere and impressive rhythmic combinations over the incessant pounding of the piano. Tobias Morgenstern’s Pechvogel (track 4) is sexy and sultry with its twisting rhythms and shows considerable invention. My particular favourite is Johanna Juhola’s lyrical, longing and reflective composition Milonga Sylvia (track 5).

Do not think for a minute that Tango music has to be played by Argentinean or Latin-American performers. It is an easy trap to fall into and I am as guilty as most in wanting my Elgar played by an English orchestra and conductor and my Ravel played by a French Orchestra… etc. etc. Winners of the 2002, International Astor Piazzolla competition in Castelfidardo in Italy the duo Milla Viljamaa and Johanna Juhola are described rather pretentiously in the booklet notes as ‘urban-fusion folk musicians of the young generation’. Never fear, the gifted duo are absolutely magnificent and their exceptional playing fired my imagination in transporting me to the bustling and vibrant atmosphere and often visceral pictures of life on sultry Buenos Aires streets. Not an easy thing to do on a very wet and extremely blustery day in a small seaside town near Blackpool.

As a traditionalist I was rather disappointed that Johanna Juhola has chosen on this recording to use an accordion rather than the traditional bandoneón, an instrument that Piazzolla played so expertly. The booklet notes contain rather meagre information and I would advise that a magnifying glass is kept at hand to read the ridiculously small print.

This splendid recording is guaranteed to delight lovers of the tango and convert many others. Excellent sound quality from the Finlandia engineers.

Michael Cookson

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