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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Adiós Nonino [6:25]
Le Grand Tango [13:03]
Histoire du Tango - Café 1930 [8:30]
Michelangelo 70 [3:07]
Oblivion [4:28]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 [19:04]
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 [11:18]
Anne Gastinel (cello)
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Cellos of the National Orchestra of France
rec. 2014, Studio 106, Maison de la Radio, Paris
NAÏVE V5378 [65:55]

Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos are afforded the Rolls-Royce treatment here by Naïve. Please forgive the somewhat mixed metaphor, but my knowledge of elite French car marques is limited. The star quality of cellist Anne Gastinel and soprano Sandrine Piau give this a definite luxury feel.

The nuevo tangos of Astor Piazzolla seem almost infinitely re-arrangable. I have seen versions for everything from solo piano to full orchestra, and all manner of ensembles in between. Here the five pieces were arranged for this recording by Thibault Perrine for solo cello - taking the part of the bandoneon in Piazzolla’s original band version - and cello orchestra. As well played as the five pieces are, I believe that these arrangements are not one of the more successful ones, lacking contrast, as they do. The marvellous Tango! album led by cellist Jan Vogler and a chamber ensemble (review) features a stunning rendition of Oblivion for piano trio, where all three instruments take turns with the lead melody. Here that isn’t possible, and while Piazzolla’s wonderful tunes are still there, a certain something is missing.

The two Villa-Lobos pieces were written specifically for cello ensembles, and as such, work much better because the composer’s original planning took the limited soundscape into account. Sandrine Piau’s entry in the famous vocalise at the start of No. 5 sent shivers up my spine, with its passion and intimacy. Her rendition rivals that of Victoria de los Angeles with the composer on EMI Classics (review), and is a considerable contrast to the more restrained Renée Fleming (RCA) and Donna Brown (BIS – review). The cello accompaniment is exceptional, and this may just be the best version I’ve heard. The performance of No. 1 is even better, and unquestionably the best I know, with marvellous drive and poetry.

The liner-notes consist of a Q&A session with Anne Gastinel, two of the five questions being about her rather than the music. For works that are fairly well known, especially Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, I can understand the idea of steering away from the standard format, but omitting any information about the works and composers is ill-judged. Equally, I’m not sure why it was considered a good idea to omit all timings – tracks and album from the booklet and cover. The recording quality for the cellos is very good, but perhaps a little close for Ms Piau.

I’m not convinced about the all-cello Piazzolla, but these are benchmark performances of the two Bachianas Brasileiras.

David Barker




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