Benjamin YUSUPOV (b.1962)
Viola Tango Rock Concerto (2003)
Aníbal Dos Santos (viola); Gina Medina (dancer and choreographer)
Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá/Ricardo Jaramillo
rec. live, June 2009, León de Greiff Auditorium, National University of Colombia
Stereo and Sound Surround; no other details provided
I remember watching the BBC programme that introduced Benjamin Yusopov’s Viola Tango Rock Concerto, performed by its dedicatee Maxim Vengerov. The composer and the violinist were firm friends - sonata colleagues and eminent performers - and Yusupov had already dedicated his 1998 Violin Concerto and his 2003 piece Maximum to Vengerov. It’s not so surprising that Vengerov has called the Viola Tango Rock Concerto ‘the greatest concerto written for viola’ though the rest of us, listening in our dull, old-fashioned ways to our Telemann, and Walton, and all the others, may possibly have other ideas.
The performance in this DVD comes from a Colombian performance given in 2009. Its star performer is the Portuguese violist Anibal Dos Santos, who was actually born in Caracas in 1963, later studying with Joseph de Pasquale in Philadelphia. He gave the North and South American premiere of this concerto with these forces in May 2007. The filmed performance too k place two years later, with the composer present.
I was worried at first. The picture was murky and rather opaque, but then es ward Licht, and all was well. Dos Santos is a big, hulking man, bald, stubbly, and wearing an outsize black jacket. You probably wouldn’t want to disagree with him if he told you that, yes, Yusupov’s was the greatest viola concerto ever written and Walton’s was just a Mediterranean jeu d’esprit. He doesn’t look like the kind of chap to be trifled with. I’ve seen Alpine ridges more forgiving.
The camera work is broadly unobtrusive. It shows the hard working orchestra and the various extra instrumentalists - the rock trio of electric guitar, electric bass and drums, the accordion and the acoustic guitar. Yusopov specified Bandoneon but I assume the acoustic guitar is an acceptable substitute, and I can’t now recall if the Vengerov performance had which of the two instruments. The Bandoneon makes sense for the Tango in a Piazzollan kind of way. The dour opening is well controlled by conductor Ricardo Jaramillo who beats time, baton-less, in a very mathematical kind of way - more quadratic equations than post-Shostakovich.
The infiltrated baroque figures are always haunting - but then they always tend to be, in my experience, in whatever medium - but it’s when Dos Santos puts down his conventional viola for the third movement and picks up his groovy electric model that the floor shown begins. Lights strobe, the rock trio kicks in, and things go back to 1967. The music then reverts to melancholy and the (conventional) viola passages get more and more strenuous and powerful. We then fade to black. Dos Santos leaves. The winds pipe up, introducing the accordion; this gap allows Dos Santos to unpeel his black jacket and to be manoeuvred into a new red one, the size of a small principality. On comes slinky dancer and choreographer Gina Medina. Dos Santos, grizzled, vast, bald, red-jacketed, sullen, heavy as a broken heart, lumbers around her. She keeps her Tango kicks to a minimum. The poor man has been slogging his guts out for nearly 40 minutes and here he is having to dance a Tango.
At the end Yusupov comes on to take applause, with the performers, from the mixed age ranged audience who are commendably enthusiastic. I should add finally that we hear the full six movement version including the Postludium and Go Tango. Has anyone ever played the cut-down version?
The concerto is a kind of multimedia event. Its tone is predominantly rather dark - darker than you’d imagine from the jolly-sounding title - but relieved by intense outbursts of pummelling rock back beat and Tango intensity. I’ve never seen the Tango section really work, though - not even with Vengerov.
Jonathan Woolf
A kind of multimedia event. Predominantly dark … intense outbursts of pummelling rock back beat and Tango intensity.