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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Estaciones Porteñas (1965-70) [24:28]
Tango Ballet (1956) [10:58]
Histoire Du Tango (1986) [21:00]
Four for Tango (1987) [6:38]
Ma’alot Quintet: Stephanie Winker (flute), Christian Wetzel (oboe), Uif-Guido Schäfer (clarinet), Volker Grewel (horn), Volker Tessmann (bassoon)
rec. 17-19 May 2006, Paul Gerhard Kirche, Leipzig

First, let me get my tango credentials out of the way. I am solo subcontrabass flautist in The Netherlands Flute Orchestra which is conducted and led artistically by Jorge Caryevschi, who used to be a flautist in Piazzolla’s orchestra in Argentina. Aside from having Piazzolla as a staple on our repertoire, we’ve also toured with Sexteto Canyengue, whose bandoneon soloist Carel Kraayenhof worked with Piazzolla. Gritty violin scraping, bass rhythms which physically lift you out of your seat and ‘those’ harmonies which bring a tear to the eye have all been a part of my life for quite a while, so I’ve been hoping this CD would add some new dimensions to familiar sounds.
Arrangements of Piazzolla are many and varied, and I have no problem with differing versions as such. The wind quintet as a standard classical ensemble works well enough in this repertoire, but has the quality of ‘straightening out’ many of the wrinkles which for me makes tango special. The bassoon is often given bass lines, but doesn’t have quite the range or ‘oomph’ of a string bass, so the extremes of range in the low registers miss out somewhat. Wind instruments can be rhythmic of course, and I find no fault with the Ma’alot Quintet’s sense of drive and impulse. There is none of the ‘wrghack!’ you get from roughly bowed strings, heavy pizzicati, throbbing pianos or the rattling lung of the bandoneon though. Everything is rather polite, despite the undisputable energy this ensemble put into the music. It’s not so much the question of ‘why?’ which can arise with some arrangements, more the knowledge that this will, can never really be ‘it’ in a definitive sense.
Having said all this, these arrangements are excellent on their own terms, and there is a great deal of fun to be had. Little glissandi from each instrument now and again add style and humour without turning into parody, and the pungent, plangent Piazzolla harmonies are richly and expressively delivered. These are concert pieces after all. Piazzolla’s tango nuevo innovations may originally have led him into trouble with traditionalists, but the pieces presented here are good representations of the very works which brought the tango intellectual recognition in the cultural centres of Europe.
Estaciones Porteñas consists of four movements named after the seasons, and a rousing start soon breaches more serious compositional realms, with Piazzolla’s characteristic descending bass providing the foundation for fugal entries and some complicated counterpoint. The variety of colour in the wind ensemble suits the contrasts in mood in these pieces, which can turn from driving tango to soothing melancholy on a dime.
Tango Ballet was originally written for film, and is in five short movements with associative titles. The younger Piazzolla can be seen experimenting a little here, toying with the boundaries between his natural tango idiom and some almost Gershwinesque techniques. This suits wind quintet arrangement particularly well, with fewer straight tango moments pulling at one’s dance tendons.
Histoire Du Tango illustrates the progress of the tango from its poor origins, the relatively innocent and straightforward rhythms in Bordel 1900, through some slinky smokiness in Café 1930, and further to the slightly hysterical sophistication of Nightclub 1960. The concluding Concert d’aujourd’hui represents the avant-garde in the kind of tango which established itself as part of concert-hall repertoire.
The final work, Four for Tango, was originally written for string quartet, and contains effective representations of that characteristic extremely high upward glissando, a kind of ‘Piazzolla Skyrocket’ beloved of tango violinists. The piece is in many ways still recognisable tango, but with gruffly uncompromising dissonances and extended techniques for the wind players it is as far removed from classical tango as a Kagel march is from one of Sousa’s.
The playing from the Ma’alot Quintet (their name derives from Hebrew, and symbolises ‘the way to harmony and harmoniousness’) is really top notch, with dead-eye impact, intonation and articulation, and a superbly expressive, rich sound where required. The recording is also well nigh perfect, with the instruments beautifully delineated in a gorgeous church acoustic. My only wish remains however – just imagine some of those bass lines if they’d been chugged out (for instance) on a contra-bassoon. In the spirit of Piazzolla’s own avant-garde work; just a tad more daring in the arrangements and I’d be dancing to this down many a supermarket aisle.
Dominy Clements




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