Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Sinfonia Buenos Aires, Op.15 (1951) [26:20]
Aconcagua, Concerto for bandoneón, strings and percussion (1979) [24:58]
Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (1964/1970) [28:20] (arr. Leonid Desyatnikov)
Daniel Binelli (bandoneón), Tianwa Yang (violin)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Giancarlo Guerrero
rec. 21-22 November 2009, Laura Turner Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.572271 [79:38]

My last encounter with the music of Astor Piazzolla was memorable, albeit for the wrong reasons; hence I approached this new release with caution. I need not have worried, for within minutes I just knew this was going to be something rather special. The Naxos sound combines warmth and weight; this is especially welcome in the gaudy colours and wild rhythms of Op. 15, just one of Piazzolla’s many homages to the Argentine capital.

Inevitably, the tango – more specifically, the nuevo tango – lies at the heart of this symphony, and I was astonished at the Nashville band’s idiomatic playing throughout. As for conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, he holds it all together with great skill, so that even the more febrile passages are thrilling without ever becoming incoherent. And if you haven’t heard Piazzolla before this is the perfect place to start; it’s fiery, propulsive and, despite its insistent rhythms, the work doesn’t outstay its welcome. Indeed, the half hour seems to pass in a matter of minutes, largely because Piazzolla is so adroit at reinventing what is essentially a simple rhythmic idea.

The bandoneón, a kind of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay, brings street music to the symphony; it also gets an outing in the bright and breezy Aconcagua, which takes its name from an Andean peak. It’s a much more transparent work – no brass or woodwind – the surge and swell of Daniel Binelli’s squeezebox adding a real sense of wistfulness to this lovely score. And despite the work’s sometimes Bartókian rigour the central Moderato – complete with rippling harp – is surprisingly gentle and irresistibly mellifluous. The recorded balance is entirely natural, the bandoneón – sounding remarkably expressive in Binelli’s hands – always easily heard. The work ends with a witty little Presto, its jazzy inflections superbly shaped.

This really is a most engaging collection, the freshness and spontaneity of Piazzolla’s writing matched by the committed, idiomatic playing of all concerned. The violinist Tianwa Yang certainly makes a good impression in Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). This is a much more imaginative, rhythmically alert arrangement than Aquiles Delle-Vigne’s rather dour piano version on the disc I mentioned earlier. The sweet, sentimental sounds of the bandoneón are most artfully echoed on the fiddle, Yang switching from Vivaldian formality to urban insouciance with disarming ease.

In his review BBr noted this collection would ‘please all Piazzolla lovers, and bring many more into the fold’, sentiments I’m happy to endorse. Musically and technically there’s absolutely nothing to criticise; factor in detailed liner-notes and a super-budget price tag and this really is a no-brainer.

Dan Morgan

A most engaging collection… freshness, spontaneity matched by committed, idiomatic playing.