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Recordings of the Month


piano music Vol 4


Songs of Love and Sorrow

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Astor PIAZZOLLA ( 1921-1992)
Tango Nuevo
La Muerte del Ángel (1962) * [2:56]
Histoire du Tango (1985) (arr. Dmitry Varelas) [18:34]
Melodía in A minor (1969) * [2:54]
Tango in A minor (Tanguano) (Dos Piezas Breves no.1) (1969) [3:15]
Milonga sin Palabras [5:14]
Fuga y Misterio (from: María de Buenos Aires) * [3:23]
Ave María (Tanti Anni Prima) [4:05]
Yo Soy María (from: María de Buenos Aires) * [3:06]
Oblivion (1982) * [3:32]
Aire de la Zamba Niña * [2:36]
Le Grand Tango (1982), (arr. Sofia Gubaidulina) [7:32]
Libertango * [1:50]
(* arrangements by Tomas Cotik)
Tomas Cotik (violin); Glenn Basham (violin II*); Tao Lin (piano)
rec. Gusman Concert Hall, Florida, 1-14 May 2012.
NAXOS 8.573166 [59:35]

The sheer number of Piazzolla-themed recordings suggests a historical significance that goes far beyond anything his legacy really merits, at least as far as art music is concerned. The reference site has details of around 350 discs, as well as an ominous list self-explanatorily titled '200 Versions of 'Adiós Nonino''.
Naxos set in motion their own Piazzolla eulogium more than a decade ago with his 'Complete Music for Flute and Guitar' (review). Well performed yet hardly compelling, this disc set the tone for most of Naxos's Piazzolla output since, although the next one along was a considerable step down: the tediousness of arrangements and dodgy vocals led one reviewer to call already for a "moratorium on discs of Piazzolla arrangements" (review). Shabby audio and nondescript playing marred the next volume, of uncalled-for piano transcriptions (review). Piazzolla in orchestral form, both by origin and by arrangement (review), offered a much better bet - the Sinfonia Buenos Aires and Las Cuatro Estanciones Porteñas featured here are two of Piazzolla's best works by any measure.
The recent 'Tangos for Violin, Brass and Percussion Quintet' may sound more promising than any album lazily titled 'Histoire du Tango' or 'Oblivion', but in fact Naxos hit rock bottom with this collection of pulp arrangements. To add insult to insult, the version of Cuatro Estanciones Porteñas heard here weaves in bits of Vivaldi's original Quattro Stagioni. Though there will always be an audience for this kind of thing (see review) - just as there is for Piazzolla's electric-guitar-based quintet - this was a disc of crossover gewgaw, a waste of money for anyone but the most undemanding of listeners. On a 2012 album, Greek trombonist Achilles Liarkmakopoulos's arrangements of Piazzolla standards proved to be much more dignified, if not exactly required listening (review).
Yet after all the tribulations, it should not be forgotten that Piazzolla studied under Nadia Boulanger and Alberto Ginastera, and for all the later embracing of pop values, there is considerable technique and originality underpinning some of his music. His Cuatro Estanciones Porteñas, for example, were originally scored by him for piano trio - the Villa-Lobos Trio made a fine recording of it recently (see review). In a similar vein, Tomas Cotik's arrangements for violin and piano on the present disc offer a much clearer glimpse of what Piazzolla might have achieved if he had concentrated on art rather than glamour.
Buenos Aires-born Cotik, with no little help from pianist Tao Lin and one or two other high-calibre arrangers, turns the class up and the sleaze down. As he writes in his long, detailed notes, "it is difficult [...] to believe that not one of [the pieces] was originally composed for violin and piano." Indeed, some items, like the Fuga y Misterio or Sofia Gubaidulina's macho-cum-sensual, and highly virtuosic, version of Le Grand Tango, would add exotic colour and substance to any violinist's recital. The difference between Cotik's account of Tanti Anni Prima (or Ave Maria, as it was later known) and that heard on 'Tangos for Violin, Brass and Percussion Quintet', is massive. Even if the gap in audio quality were not as great as it is, Cotik manages to bring out Piazzolla's lyrical power, where Donato De Sena's arrangement merely emphasises surface tackiness. Cotik even breathes life into the knacker's own Oblivion and Libertango.  

Cotik hears in Piazzolla's music "aggression and madness, the honking, the chaos, the drunkenness, dizziness and the energy of the megalopolis of Buenos Aires. [...] smoky atmospheres and veiled feelings, vegetative states of mind, wistfulness, nostalgic love … like an old person's sorrowful reminiscences of a younger love …" As fanciful as some of these ideas seem, there is no question that this disc is, by some distance, Naxos's best Piazzolla recording, one which probably gives the music connoisseur a good fifty percent of all the Piazzolla he or she needs to know.
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