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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)

Aconcagua (Concierto para Bandoneon) [22:34]
Gerardo Jerrez Le CAM (b. 1963)
Los Pibes [11:09]
Jugada Intima [4:04]
Tomás GUBITSCH (b. 1957)
Sea Como Fuere [8:04]*
Despedida y Andar [3:02]*
Egberto GISMONTI (b.1947)
Água e Vinho [4:13]
Manu COMTÉ (b. 1973)
Alma [1:32]
Homilia [7:27]*
Manu Comté (bandoneon)
B’Strings Quintet
Tomás Gubitsch (electric guitar)*
rec. 29-31 July 2015, Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, Waterloo, Belgium.

I make no claim for being a bandoneon/tango expert, but did once do a series of concerts with the great Dutch player Carel Kraayenhof so know a little about how impossibly difficult an instrument it seems to master. More importantly, it was a chance to absorb some of that Argentinian musical flavour, and so any time I hear a recording such as this fine disc with Manu Comté I’m taken back to ‘Nedertango’ and am grateful at least to have some authentic points of reference.

This is refined tango of the artistic kind developed by Astor Piazzolla, whose music was and is very much intended for the concert hall rather than the dance floor. Aconcagua is a genuine concerto for bandoneon, and like a Vivaldi concerto is quite suited for performance with single strings rather than a full orchestra. This intimate setting creates its own atmosphere, and the slow movement is especially expressive. Rhythmic drive in the last movement is propelled by the double-bass, and there is no lack of excitement in the syncopations and harmonic inventiveness in Piazzolla’s piece.

The concerto is the most substantial work here, but Gerardo Jerez le Cam’s Los Pibes is the longest single track on this album, described by the composer as “a musical poem that evokes the atmosphere of a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where childhood reigns in the imagination.” This is a piece that has appeared previously on an album called ‘Barok Tango’ performed with the Aria Lachrimae Consort, the version here winning out in terms of refinement, working the softer dynamics with great subtlety and with better intonation in the strings, though with a differing character which will be a question of taste as to which you prefer. In both cases this emerges as a serious piece with a wide variety of material and often a deep sense of mystery and a ghostly, nostalgic sense of loss. This is followed nicely by Le Cam’s Jugada Intima, a briefer but no less atmospheric piece with a minor-key feel and intertwining lines that unravel with slow and implacable intensity.

Tomás Gubitsch playing a nicely balanced electric guitar gives an added twist to Sea Como Fuere or ‘in any way’; a piece in which less is more and a great deal is said with a minimum of means. This is paired with Despedida y Andar, in which Gubitsch performs in duo with Comté. The guitar given a bigger role emerges as a beautifully expressive voice a little in the Ralph Towner mould, the two musicians interacting with a nicely improvisatory feel.

Egberto Gismonti is a well-known and highly respected Brazilian musician and composer, his Água e Vinho an eloquent vehicle for Comté’s solo bandoneon. The programme concludes with two pieces by Manu Comté himself, the remarkable, quiet Alma creating an almost Mahlerian moment of reflection before the final Homilia, which brings everyone together in a grand finale whose virtuosity is deceptively concealed in restraint and subtlety.

My only criticisms of this release would be the sparsity of information in the booklet notes on the music and composers, though there are some comments on the pieces by their authors. SACD sound is good though very ‘studio’ – each instrument seemingly in its own little cabin. This is a poetic and expressively performed collection of tango-based music that explores its deeper character in pieces that are often slower and more brooding than you might expect. There are fireworks to be found, but these by no means leave the dominant impression. Manu Comté writes of how the combination of bandoneon with strings forms both some of the founding elements of the tango, and how this particular setting and with these particular musicians creates to “a strong, intense expression, a particular lyricism, a supplement of poetry, of soul.” These are sentiments with which I can only agree wholeheartedly, and from a sense of artistic collaboration that is very potent from all of these tracks.

Dominy Clements



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