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Ástor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Hommage à Liège, Concerto for Bandoneón, Guitar, and String Orchestra [15:51]
Adam SZMEREK (b. 1948)
Fantazja for accordion and chamber orchestra [9:28]
Escualo [3:41]
Tanguedia [4:39]
Concerto for accordion and chamber orchestra [16:44]
Elwira Sliwkiewicz-Cisak, accordion; Jakub Niedoborok, guitar (Piazzolla); Tanguillo Quintet (Escualo, Tanguedia), Lublin Chamber Orchestra with conductor Piotr Wijatkowski (concertos and Fantazja)
rec. 6 September 2013 and 15-16 February 2014, Karol Lipinski Music School, Lublin, Poland
DUX 1278 [50:23]

There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that Ástor Piazzolla’s music, so brilliantly written and so immensely fun to hear and to play, can be idiomatically performed by anyone these days. Even a group of artists from Lublin, Poland can truly get into the moody spirit of his world and deliver excellent performances. The centerpiece here is a rare-ish double concerto for bandoneón, guitar, and string orchestra. It starts with an introductory movement for soloists alone, then proceeds to Piazzolla’s two most famous forms, the milonga and tango.

Elwira Sliwkiewicz-Cisak plays accordion, not bandoneón, which will rankle many purists, but she does her job well, and I find the substitution easy to forgive. Her Lublin-based quintet, which joins in on two shorter Piazzolla works, is skilled and spirited too, notably guitarist Jakub Niedoborok. It makes for fun, idiomatic Piazzolla.

I cannot say the same, unfortunately, for Adam Szmerek’s accordion concerto. Szmerek got his start writing songs for cabarets, just as Piazzolla did, but he has not integrated the cabaret style into a classical idiom with the same bold success the Argentine composer enjoyed. The Concerto seems to be pops-pandering of the most pedestrian kind; it’s all Parisian cafes and 1950s movie tunes. There’s a jazz drumset, a very prominent orchestral piano given many of the tunes, and a general air of settling for the easiest-on-the-ears. I love light music; Jean Françaix is a favorite composer. But Szmerek’s is more like a crossover work from fifty years ago, and the tunes simply aren’t as memorable as some of the Edith Piaf-type classics. The orchestral part is overly simple, as well. Listening to this concerto twice, to write a review, was one time too many.

Szmerek’s nine-minute Fantazja is much better, happily; there are a few moments that sound like the soundtrack to a BBC comedy, but overall it’s a more sophisticated, more complex, more fun piece of music. That concerto, though, is a heavy weight on the disc. Dux’s recorded sound is very good, but you’re only getting a half-hour of good music. I’m very happy to see international artists take to Piazzolla with such enthusiasm, and I like the Fantazja, but whether a half-hour of tango influence is worth your money is another question.

Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Marc Rochester



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