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Bella Musica

Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992)
Buenos Aires – mi amor - Tango Nuevo: Michelangelo ’70; Tangata – Silfo y Ondina: Fugata; Soledad; Final; Milonga del ángel; Estaciones Porteñas: Primavera Porteña; Verano Porteño; Otoño Porteño; Invierno Porteño; Libertango
Operassion: Fabian Dobler (piano), Antje Steen (bandoneon), Susanne Hofmann (violin), Maya Valcheva (double bass), Rares Popsa (guitar)
rec. Saal der Bayerischen Musikakademie, Marktoberdorf, 9–12 August 2005. DDD
ANTES BM-CD 31.9208 [57:35]

"A sad idea that one can dance", is Udo Salzbrenner’s heading to his essay on tango in the booklet for this issue. Little is known about the origin of the word ‘tang’, but one theory says that it is African and related to "tambo" (drum). Another idea is that it is the verb "tang" (to touch). Somewhere around 1880 it seems that the tango appeared in the brothels of Buenos Aires derived from the habanera. It is also an interesting fact, not mentioned in the essay, that in Europe the dance is firmly established in Finland of all countries. There it is enormously popular. It seems that every individual in Finland can dance the tango and every year a King of Tango is chosen. Possibly it is the melancholy of the music - a sad idea that one can dance - that appeals to the Finns.

"Piazzolla’s tangos are not danceable, at least not in the conventional sense. They demand rather concentrated listening", maintains Salzbrenner. He refers to the composer’s use of harmonies borrowed from jazz but also from Stravinsky and Bartók. It is indeed fascinating and remarkable what Piazzolla can extract from the tango, constantly finding new ways to widen its expressive scope. His works are through-composed with lots of changes in tempo, in dynamics, in instrumentation and in rhythm. Sometimes he writes thrilling counterpoint (he was a great admirer of Bach’s) – the Fugata, the first movement of Tangata – Silfo y Ondina is a good example. Sometimes, as in the Final of the same suite, the pianist is suddenly let loose in a hilarious jazz solo, backed up by the double bass. Much of the music is built up from fragments, short phrases that are repeated, changed, transposed. They rarely develop into long-drawn melodies, even though he can write lovely tunes too. It is all very unpredictable – anything can happen so have to keep a good look-out; stimulating stuff.

Maybe the most fascinating work on this disc is Estaciones Porteñas which is Piazzolla’s own "The Four Seasons" – constantly bristling with ideas and the last movement, Invierno Porteño (track 9) also a piece of extreme melodic beauty. What is possibly his greatest hit, Libertango, is played as an encore and with real gusto!

The five musicians are German but they all have a deep love of this music and at least the pianist, Fabian Dobler, has lived in Buenos Aires and imbibed the atmosphere. With the bandoneon providing the authentic colour this disc conveys a slightly exotic message, at least to a North European; a message that makes at least this listener eager to get to know the music even better and decode this message. By the way, Piazzolla also played this instrument, the Argentinean accordion, which can be seen on the cover picture.

Piazzolla’s world is very much his own and delving into it pays dividends. This as good a place as any to start delving for the not-yet-converted. The only black mark, which is a serious one, is the design of the booklet with the small print in white on black or, even worse, white on yellow! Don’t they ever read their own products? Another disc from the same company, Mozart for mandolin and guitar, was exemplary in this respect but this disc is obviously aimed at a more popular market where flashy design is all-important – to the detriment of decipherability. Shame!

Göran Forsling



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