Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Michelangelo ’70 (1969) [2:54]
Histoire du Tango: Café 1930; Nightclub 1960 (1985) [13:03]
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 (1962/65) [18:02]
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 interesting.
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.
Piazzolla suits the trombone surprisingly well and when its voice soars so expressively I doubt that anyone will remain unmoved.