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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Michelangelo ’70 (1969) [2:54]
Histoire du Tango: Café 1930; Nightclub 1960 (1985)
Soledad (1974) [8:45]
Le Grand Tango (1982) [11:25]
Oblivion (1982) [3:53]
Escualo (1979) [18:02]
Serie del Angel (arr. Gabriel Senanes): La muerte del
angel; Milonga del angel; Resurrección del angel
Achilles Liarmakopoulos (trombone)
with Héctor Del Curto (bandonéon), Octavio Brunetti (piano), Pedro
Giraudo (double bass), Simon Powis (guitar), Ian Rosenbaum (marimba),
Robert Thompson (piano), Samuel Adams (double bass), Edson Scheid
(violin), Jiyun Han (violin), Raul Garcia (viola), Arnold Choi (cello)
rec. 20, 24, 28 April and 5 May 2010, Yale University, New Haven,
CT, USA. DDD.
NAXOS 8.572596 [62:00]
The trend to record Piazzolla’s music in “eccentric” instrumental
combinations is quite popular these days, and some of the results
are worth it. But when one considers a trombone-centred album
– isn’t there a danger of lack of variety? We know the trombone
as this stentorian guy with a demonic wink, the glaring blare
of bassy brass. Right, there is much in Piazzolla’s music that
could invite such a hero. Actually, most of his music revolves
around two focal points. They are very different, yet both trap
and kill you – one brutally, the other softly. The first one
is the aggressive, angry, anxious music. It seems quite natural
to use the trombone, this rough, masculine instrument, for its
dark, violent fights. The other kind is lyrical and poignant,
the stuff of dreams and memories, of longing and yearning. Its
long notes come out well on the traditional “singing” instruments,
which are capable of emotional nuance. As this disc shows, in
the right hands, the trombone can play both roles. Its sound
has the necessary vibrancy. As for emotional nuance, apparently
it’s just a function of the proficiency of the performer. What
is somewhat lacking is the feeling of fragility but this is
compensated by the added depth. Also, being smoother than the
“standard” Piazzolla instruments, the trombone brings appealing
jazziness to the music.
Diversity is secured by the arrangements, which are done with
skill and fantasy. The accompaniments vary a lot, from solo
marimba in Nightclub, to guitar in Café, bandonéon,
piano and bass in Soledad and Escualo, and
a complete string quintet (with double bass) in the Angel
pieces. The trombone does not monopolise the limelight. For
example, in Soledad it enters very late, letting the
bandonéon sing with the piano.
Content-wise, the album is not adventurous. The pieces were
picked from the “routine” Piazzolla cookbook. But good renditions
of the “routine” sets are always welcome. The only relatively
new thing is the complete Angel series including the
Resurrection, which is otherwise heard less frequently
than its perhaps too common companions. Hearing it here alongside
the other two, I can understand the reason: it is truly less
The fast numbers have excellent drive, which helps transcend
occasional repetition, as in Michelangelo ’70. When
the music is fast, and the notes come hammering in like furious
bullets, the trombone is denied the chance to show its vibrant
qualities, and so the music sounds unyielding and a little stiff.
This happens, for instance, in Nightclub. In the slower
places the trombone never assumes a commanding voice. These
are the most magical moments, when the music is allowed to breathe.
Café is one of them, unhurried and tender. The slower
parts of Soledad are excellent, though the rushing
episodes are hard again.
The trombone cannot really sustain the entire length and weight
of Le grand Tango. It lacks the cello’s catholic range,
and fails to make these eleven minutes as breathtaking as they
can be. Still, it is a very good reading, and the more relaxed
places serve as examples of how expressive this instrument can
be. These parts are deeply felt, and the trombone sound is pliant.
Escualo is nervous and rapidly pulsing. In the Angel
series, arranged by Gabriel Senanes, the trombone is superimposed
over the five string instruments. I liked this - successfully
combining Piazzolla’s sweet and bitter. The trombone blends
with the strings surprisingly well.
Achilles Liarmakopoulos does not show off, does not squeeze
surplus emotion out of the music. His performance is noble.
He demonstrates rare restraint, considering it’s his debut disc;
on first discs people usually want to impress and not necessarily
with the music. The recording is clean and good. The trombone
does not achieve a completely resolved blend with all the instruments,
but you probably wouldn’t expect it. It is placed forwardly.
This disc definitely serves as a good introduction to Piazzolla:
I am sure it will only spur further interest. For those who
know this composer, it can comes as an interesting alternative
to the more “standard” readings. The music of Piazzolla suits
the trombone surprisingly well especially when its voice soars
so expressively, as in Oblivion or Milonga del
Angel. I doubt that anyone would be unmoved when this happens.