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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.