Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
From Suite Española, Op.47 (1886): Asturias; Mallorca; Sevilla [17:42]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
From 12 danzas españolas (1890): Andaluza; Oriëntal; Zambra [13:36]
Antonio RUIZ-PIPÓ (1934-1997)
Cancion y Danza (1958) [4:10]
Ástor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Oblivion (1982) [6:17]
From Histoire du Tango (1970): Bordel; Café; Nightclub [18:50]
Mikhail ZEMTSOV (b.1969)
Al Rato Veras [4:24]
All transcriptions by Mikhail Zemtsov and Enno Voorhorst.
Mikhail Zemtsov (viola), Enno Voorhorst (guitar)
rec. March 2009, Westvest 90, Schiedam, The Netherlands. DDD
OTTAVO OTR C30973 [65:02]

Duo Macondo was named after the imaginary city created by Gabriel García Márquez. The mystic Macondo of Márquez is both “far far away” and always here, in our heads. It is a good name for an ensemble that bridges distant countries. Mikhail Zemtsov on viola and Enno Voorhorst on guitar are both accomplished players and form an interesting and unusual duo.

The first part of the program is dedicated to that pair of Catalan composers whose names go together so often: Albéniz and Granados. Each is represented by three pieces with strong Spanish elements, based on folk dance. In the arrangements, the roles of the two instruments are rather fixed: the viola sings the melodic line, while the guitar takes the accompaniment. The result resembles a collection of songs, where the viola is the singer. The arrangements are natural, not too dense. The timbre and register of the two instruments are alike, which helps in the blend of voices. Asturias is one of the best-known pieces by Albéniz, thanks mostly to solo guitar transcriptions. It is a dark, mysterious legend, kind of a Spanish Erlkönig. Mallorca is a bittersweet romance, of the Liebesleid kind, almost a proto-tango. Sevilla is a hearty celebration.

When we move from Albéniz to Granados, not much is changed. Spain is still the source of inspiration. Andaluza is like a fiery gypsy dance. Its middle episode is sweet and relaxed, while the outer parts are agitated and very rhythmic. Oriëntal has the swaying momentum of a lullaby. The viola cedes the leading role in the ballad-like beginning, and instead supplies a pizzicato accompaniment. When it regains the reins, its smoky rough voice is very humane. This is the music of the twilight. Zambra returns to the mood of Andaluza; it is a character dance, with a slower middle section.

Cancion y Danza by Antonio Ruiz-Pipó serves as a separator between the idealistic bright colors of Albéniz and Granados, and the more realistic tango world of the second half of the disc. This music is unpretentious and simple, but not plain. It could be called neo-Renaissance; I can easily imagine it being played at the ball in the Capulets’ house, for example. Cancion is a saraband – cold, gray, bringing thoughts of mists and stones. It is followed by the merry, galliard-like Danza, with a strong, bouncy beat and some wicked cool effects from the viola. Actually, both instruments here masquerade in the antique costumes of a lute and a viol … and they do so most convincingly.

After we refreshed the “taste buds” of our ears, we move from sunny Spain to the rainy, depressed Buenos-Aires of Ástor Piazzolla. The arrangements change accordingly: we have quite a different set of sonorities. Oblivion is done perfectly: it is warm and poignant at the same time. As is customary now for Piazzolla interpretations, we have “the effects”, but they are very natural. Bordel, Café and Nightclub are chunks from the suite Histoire du Tango originally written for guitar and flute. Here the arranger did not have to tear a single fabric into two voices: the distinct voices were already there. Bordel is cheerful and lighthearted. Café is one of Piazzolla’s evening pieces, sorrowful but with motion. It tells a story, and is very choreographic. The viola sings magically. Finally, in Nightclub the viola proves its versatility, switching between the roles of a dark-colored cello and a soaring violin. Its nervous, vibrant voice suits this music better than the original flute.

Mikhail Zemtsov, the violist of the duo, composed Al Rato Veras – but it could as well have been written by Piazzolla himself, so naturally does it fit the Maestro’s idiom. It has its “big tune” (rather remarkable), it has a sequence of intense and introspective episodes – all in accord with Piazzolla’s formulae. The result is very satisfying.

The playing of both musicians is virtuosic and committed. However, while the guitarist just does his job well, it seems to me that the violist takes a step beyond. He constantly surprises me, almost in every piece. There is some really excellent viola playing here! The recording quality is also very good. I would prefer to hear fewer of the extra-musical squeaks and noises that accompany the guitar playing, especially in Albéniz. I did not notice them much in the Piazzolla.

Did I like the disc? Yes, I did, though not enough to say that I loved it. It clearly consists of two distinct parts with a separator, which could make it a fine recital. Such lack of unity can be considered a disadvantage for an album, but it also keeps the listener interested over repetitive listenings. I can feel the passion that Enno Voorhorst and Mikhail Zemtsov have for this music. When I listen to each piece, I feel that I am gazing into its world. But still I feel some detachment, some coldness. I am seeing the world: I do not enter it. Anyway, this disc is very satisfying on many levels. It contains some signature music from Spain and Argentina, expertly played, in fine arrangements for an interesting combination of instruments. A good one!

Oleg Ledeniov

Signature music from Spain and Argentina, expertly played, in fine arrangements for an interesting combination of instruments