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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
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. 1952)
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]
Experience Classicsonline

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 booklet writer).
 
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.
 
Gary Higginson
 

 


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