The standout recording of 2010 for me was a disc of Piazzolla
tangos performed by various combinations of piano and string
quartet, led by the brilliant cellist Jan Vogler (see review).
Less than a year on, I find myself presented with another Piazzolla
recording of equal merit; this one from an even more surprising
source: a Belgian group on a Belgian label.
The augmenting of the classical piano trio with the more traditional
tango instruments of accordion and percussion gives the Astoria
performances a more “authentic” feel than Vogler’s group, but
does that make the Fuga Libera disc better? For tango traditionalists,
undoubtedly yes, but for me, it is just different. In the past,
I would run 100 miles from the mere thought of a piano accordion
being taken out of its case, but two busking encounters - an
extraordinary performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by a single
accordionist in Munich, the other by a tango group in Rome’s
Piazza Navona – have made me broaden my outlook.
This is the first of three Piazzolla releases by the Astoria
ensemble on the Fuga Libera label, and for me, the standout,
despite the absence of two of Piazzolla’s “greatest hits” Libertango
and Adios Nonino, which are on the second release (FUG606,
titled after the latter).
Considerable care has been taken in the track order to provide
variety in tempo and mood, with the light and infectious works,
such as Fuga y Misterio alternating with the sultry and
melancholic, for example Milonga and Oblivion.
Contrabajisimo is by some way the most extended piece
at over 11 minutes, and also the least typical, beginning as
it does with almost three minutes of solo cello at the lowest
end of its register with occasional “comments” from the accordion.
The tango then emerges from this almost improvisational jazz
episode, the slow central part being quite delicious.
Two of the four movements from Four Seasons have been
chosen to bookend the disc, which is not heresy as Piazzolla
didn’t write the four pieces as a set. I said in my Record
of the Year summary for the Vogler disc that Winter (Invierno)
was “beautiful beyond belief”, a view which I still
hold with this very different arrangement. There is a more relentless
rhythm driven by the accordion, sacrificing a little of the
soulful beauty for a greater sense of the sensuality of the
dance in a smoky Buenos Aires night club. The closing moments,
pizzicato in the strings and in the highest register of the
accordion are magical.
I have listened (time and time again) to this via the Naxos
Music Library: the sound quality is exemplary in the streamed
format through good computer speakers. I would expect the CD
audio to be very good – I will find out soon enough. The NML
subscription was to stop my CD storage from complete meltdown,
but I still buy the very best ones.
David J Barker