Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) La Muerte Del Angel [3:15]; Oblivion [4:16]; Le Grand Tango [10:02]; Four for Tango [6:38]; Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas [22:25]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942) Alla Tango Milonga (from Five Pieces for String Quartet) (1989) [4:15]
Astor PIAZZOLLA Libertango [3:55]
Moritzburg Festival Ensemble (Mira Wang, Colin Jacobsen (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), Jan Vogler (cello), Vanessa Perez (piano))
rec. 18-20 March 2008, Studio Manfred Knoop Music, New Jersey USA. DDD
SONY CLASSICS 88697 328032 [55:09]

Cellist Jan Vogler describes in the sleeve-notes for this disc his early encounters with tango through film, and the morbid, nostalgic and at times destructive atmosphere that the music can bring. The performances here capture the essence of the style, with a strong humanistic feel and a sense of raw emotion. Throughout the disc, the playing is exuberant, and one has a sense of the players giving it their all.

La Muerte del Tango, heard in an arrangement by José Bragato, is given fiery fugal treatment at the opening, breaking away into an aggressive and highly accented tutti. Vogler’s cello sound comes to the fore later in the arrangement, accompanied gently by the piano. The tutti returns, giving an energetic and enjoyably rowdy start to the disc.

Oblivion is calmer in mood and well controlled, although the reverb has removed the clarity of the sound in the bass. Another Bragato arrangement, this time using violin, cello and piano, the instruments are used sensitively and provide variety of colour. Le Grand Tango has the same sound issues, with a sense of the music being performed in a bathroom, particularly at the bass end, but is a convincing arrangement for cello and piano which is full of character and captures the spirit of Piazzolla’s music well.

Four for Tango was a real eye-opener. This string quartet tango is contemporary in style, and takes the tango style to its absolute limits. This is a stunning piece of writing which follows in the tradition of (as Vogler describes) the Bartók string quartets, but encompassing the language of tango. This work demonstrates not only Piazzolla’s innovative work in the development of a form, but also his abilities as a composer.

Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas are four movements, arranged once again by Bragato for violin, cello and piano. Each movement describes one of the four seasons in Buenos Aires. They were composed between 1964 and 1970. The characters of the movements differ according to the season: Spring is bright and gently flowing, while the extended melodic lines of Summer suggest laziness and heat. Small moments of activity are short-lived and the effect of the Buenos Aires climate comes through well. Autumn has more nostalgic moments, with a captivating cello and violin melodies breaking into the hustle and bustle of daily life, which can be heard in the more rhythmic tango sections. Winter is the most directional of the movements, with a sense of building intensity, strong rhythmic pulses and flowing melodic lines.

Erwin Schulhoff’s music has a different sound to Piazzolla’s, and the style of Alla Tango Milonga has elements of folk music in addition to Latin American tango, with a frequent use of octaves, fifths and unisons in the scoring.

Piazzolla’s music returns at the end of the disc, with an arrangement of Libertango by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin which starts slowly and builds in momentum to the end, allowing the driving ostinati to move the music forward.

Carla Rees