Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (arr. string orchestra Jose Bragato (b. 1915))
(The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires): (Primavera Porteña (4.09); Verno
Porteño (9.16); Otono Porteño [6.40]; Invierno Porteño [7.50]) Mikhail BRONNER (b.
The Seasons for flute, clarinet and chamber orchestra [36.03]
Anatoly Sheludyakov (piano); Shakhida
Azinkhodjaeva (violin); Josip Petrac (cello) (Piazzolla); Angela Jones-Rees (flute);
D. Ray McClellan (clarinet) (Bronner)
ARCO Chamber Orchestra/Levon Ambartsumian
rec. live, Hugh Hodgson Hall, University of Georgia, Athens,
12 October 2006 (Piazzolla); 12 April 2007 (Bronner) PHOENIX PHCD170 [74.58]
I can remember, back in 1992 when Piazzolla died,
it seemed that hardly anyone had heard of him. Now, in
any record shop you pop into, the shelves are crowded with
his discs. Why is this?
I must confess that for some time I resisted the
lure, but working in what has become a tango-obsessed school
where pupils even took up the bandoneon and accordion it
was eventually going to happen that I would be asked to
write a tango. What I soon realized on listening to Piazzolla
was what a broad church the tango-style actual is, at least
in his hands. No wonder he was such a controversial figure
in his own land. He was even shot at in the mid-1950s by
a man who thought that the composer was bastardizing the
national music. I also realized the deep emotional significance
of the tango and the deep personal tragedy it can convey.
It is suffused with a yearning for years and times past
- as in his opera ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’. Indeed there
is nothing quite like it any more. Ah me, nostalgia is
not what is used to be! So to these pieces.
What particularly marks out Piazzolla’s tango
style compared with that of the more traditional tango
are the regular tempo changes and shifts of mood. The standard
rhythm is always somewhere present and Piazzolla avoids
a sense of disjointedness in his Cuatro
Estaciones Porteñas by using similar ideas and
material in each movement. The moods are mostly melancholic
and reflective but the last movement, Winter, shows
signs of brightness towards the end. Spring, movement
one, is the lightest and indeed shortest movement and in
mood terms brings us full circle. The whole work is vintage
Piazzolla and Jose Bragato, a friend and one-time colleague
of the composer has most tastefully and lovingly added
another dimension to this moving piece by taking it from
its original instrumentation of bandoneon, violin, electric
guitar, piano and double-bass to a piece for full string
orchestra. The performance is very much in character and
beautifully done. The live recording has a little audience
noise and applause at the end but its worst feature is
the sound of the piano which seems not to have been separately
miked and therefore to be somewhere off-stage - possibly
in the bathroom!
Mikhail Bronner’s piece makes a very successful
and sensible coupling. It comprises the twelve months of
the year cast in miniature tone-poems with an introductory
mood piece. Although two fine soloists, Angela Jones-Rees
and D. Ray McClellan are highlighted above, each movement
features another solo instrument. Like a kaleidoscope the
composer juggles his instrumentation creating a slightly
differing sound-world for each month. For example violin
and cello in November, violin and flute for September and
cello and clarinet for February (The Snow Covered Road)
which is especially effective. The December movement subtitled ‘Christmas’ “integrates
all the solo instruments together with the orchestra … the
music … aims at the listener’s heart” (to quote anonymous
Bronner is an interesting figure. In 2002 he was
awarded ‘Composer of the Year’ by a Russian music magazine.
He graduated from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and
Tchaikovsky lies behind this music – so says the composer.
The older composer wrote a set of charming piano pieces
called ‘The Seasons’ but divided into twelve movements – one
for each month. Bronner does not mention this connection
but says that he wanted to write “distinctly melodic pieces” as
a “token of love and admiration for the beloved composer
Tchaikovsky”. When the overtly sentimental takes precedence
over the descriptive one feels slightly repelled but on
the whole this work is attractive, playful and thoughtful
all at once. The May movement ‘Dandelion Wine’ is especially
typical. It features at first a solo cello accompanied
by sighing string phrases. The piece then develops for
a much longer period into a duet between violin and cello.
A brief middle section in a minor key finds more contrapuntal
activity in the string orchestra before the melancholic
melody is brought back alternating between the soloists.
Occasionally this contented mood is broken by passionate
outbursts but there is little to disturb its even flow
which ends in a sort of aimless reverie. As a contrast,
the following June movement ‘Butterflies’ is a light and
fleeting scherzo for flute and violin alone. The live audience
are mostly quiet and the recording is much better balanced
than in the Piazzolla.
There are other recordings of the Piazzolla; for
instance one by Gidon Kremer on Nonesuch, but I have not
heard them. In any case this newly-orchestrated version
is not otherwise available and certainly not with this
most suitable of couplings. It’s worth investigating.
The cover, incidentally, is most beautifully attired
with four suitable portraits of the seasons by that most
extraordinary of renaissance artists Arcimbaldo.
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