The Dux label recorded these Astor Piazzolla scores in
2005 with the appropriately
named ensemble Piazzoforte whose line-up includes a concertante
Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921. He was
four when he and his family emigrated to New York City returning
to Mar del Plata 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. He
would become without doubt the most renowned tango musician
and composer in the world.
origin of the tango has not been definitively identified. It
remains an enigma. Although music 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
its mystery and seduction. It is often depicted as an unashamedly
sensual dance epitomising the glamour and elegance of high society
women in glittering cocktail dresses and men wearing tailcoats
and bow ties in velvet-walled concert halls and soft-cushioned
drawing rooms. In reality the tango is most likely to have evolved
among society’s underclass: the seedy brothels of the Argentinean
seaports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
the late nineteen-fifties the music of Argentina, especially
that of Buenos Aires, took a radical turn. Youth culture demanded
music more relevant to their world. Musicians such as Piazzolla
responded with nuevo tango, instrumentals that expanded the
boundaries of the largely vocal music then popular throughout
the world. It represented a return to the organic roots, a style
conceived in back street bordellos and more suited to the street
than to the salon in the chaotic tableau of Buenos Aires life.
Piazzolla and the
word tango are synonymous as he based virtually all his
works on the genre, achieving towering artistic heights and great
critical acclaim. Andrès Segovia
(1893-1987) is reported to have stated about the tango, “what
mysterious music and what exceptional poetry.” The popularity
and status of the tango has fluctuated greatly over the years
but thanks primarily to the classically trained Piazzolla the
tango is enjoying another major renaissance and has become highly
fashionable in many countries.
On this Dux release we are informed that American concert
pianist Kevin Kenner,
a Chopin specialist, became greatly inspired by the music of
Piazzolla as a result of, “attending an unforgettable concert
… compellingly performed” by double-bassist Grzegorz Frankowski
and his tango ensemble in 2003. The booklet notes leave much
to be desired and contain virtually no information on these
Piazzolla works. That said it seems clear that these scores
are performed in versions by various arrangers for piano and
string quartet, comprising two violins, viola, cello and double-bass.
opening work Michelangelo 70, in a version arranged by
Bernard Chmielarz, is the finest and most memorable on the set.
Piazzoforte provide a heady atmosphere in what is a breezy and exhilarating performance.
The Tres piezas para orquesta de camara are performed
in a version arranged by José Bragato. The substantial Preludio:
Lento feels crowded, intense and unremarkable, and the
briskly rhythmic and lyrical central piece Divertimento:
Allegro molto develops a slower heady atmosphere from
around 2:20. The short closing score Fuga: Allegro
is from the start curiously reminiscent of native American music
rather than the Argentine tango. Furious playing by Piazzoforte
from 1:47 conveys an excitement that is soon overshadowed by
a feeling of heavy congestion.
by the trio of Bernard Chmielarz, José Bragato and Grzegorz
Frankowski the Concierto del angel is cast in three movements.
Milonga del Angel is a languid, sultry and rather engaging
movement, followed by the short La muerte del Angel.
This opens briskly and forcefully, changing between 1:04-2:01
to a more jazzy tone. The lengthy Resurrección del Angel
seems to gently float off without any real sense of direction.
The score in parts gains in momentum before reverting to its
Grzegorz Frankowski’s arrangement of the score Oblivion is
given a hot and steamy performance but the medium-paced music
feels unexceptional. The final score is Revolucionario also
in an arrangement by Grzegorz Frankowski. This busy and reasonably
energetic, verging full tango flavour.
Overall I found this
disc disappointing. It was hard
to imagine two dancers in an intimate embrace, moving seductively
across the dance floor of a back street Buenos Aires bar.
I kept asking myself where is that abundance of heart and soul
with a true spirit of the Tango?
do not think for a minute that tango music has to be exclusively
performed by Argentinean or Latin-American performers. However
as a tango traditionalist I am always saddened when an ensemble,
such as Piazzoforte, choose not to use the traditional bandoneón;
an instrument that Piazzolla played so expertly.
the last couple of years I have come across two releases of mainly
Piazzolla scores that I can recommend to those wishing to explore
twentieth century Argentine tango music further. Although using
an accordion rather than a bandoneón the duo of Milla Viljamaa
and pianist Johanna Juhola have arranged and excitingly perform
twelve mainly Piazzolla tango scores. Recorded in 2003 at the
Sibelius Academy in Helsinki on Finlandia Records 2564-60268-2
this remarkable disc has caused considerable excitement
when I have played selections at recorded music societies. In
addition the ensemble Tango Dorado, under the direction of bandoneón
player Christian van Hemert, perform twenty three scores, that
include ten from Piazzolla. The double set on Brilliant Classics
6933 was recorded in 2004 at The Hague and also evidently recorded
live in Amsterdam.
engineers have provided a bright and slightly close recorded sound
for this Dux release. It contains a tenth ‘bonus track’ that is
described as a ‘DVD Teledisc of Piazzoforte Project (Video)’ that
wouldn’t operate on my standard DVD players and with less than
fifty minutes playing time this proves to be rather short measure.
The performances just don’t come anywhere close to communicating
the special mystery of the tango.