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Christoph Denoth (guitar)
rec. 2017/18, Meadow House Studio, Wantage, UK

Where should a journey through music from South America start, if not with Astor Piazzolla? And that’s also where the visitor from Europe, Swiss born but now a Londoner, guitarist Christoph Denoth, begins his traversal of the continent’s musical treasures. Piazzolla’s own instrument was the bandoneon, but his music lends itself to all kinds of arrangements and the guitar is intimately associated with South American music. Piazzolla’s love affair with the tango started early and he composed his first tango as early as 1932 when he was only eleven. Towards the end of the 1940s he contemplated abandoning the tango altogether and began studying Bartók and Stravinsky. Having won a composition competition in 1953 he was awarded a grant from the French government to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and this became a turning-point in his career. His aim was to become a classical composer, but when Nadia Boulanger heard his Triumfal, which he had composed a couple of years earlier, she said that this was his true métier and he was inspired to develop tango in new directions. Upon his death in 1992 music critic Stephen Holden described him as "the world's foremost composer of tango music". Triumfal is included on the present disc (tr. 3) and is the earliest of his compositions on this disc.

Christoph Denoth has discriminatingly chosen works for this recital that should have a wide appeal, and I believe that the disc will sell well. Libertango (1974) is probably Piazzolla’s best known piece, which was an immediate success when it was first recorded, and played here with drive and rhythmic flair it should win new admirers. Oblivion from 1984 is a beautiful piece of film music, a field he devoted himself to well over 40 times.

About Adios nonino Piazzolla said himself that it was the finest tune he ever composed and he played it in at least 20 arrangements. It was written in memory of his father. Chiquilin de Bachin is another beautiful melody, a tribute to a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Verano porteño (Summer in Buenos Aires) was composed for a play, staged in 1965. It later became the first part of his often performed Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Buenos Aires Seasons) a kind of South American sequel to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The last of the seven Piazzolla pieces here is Milonga del Angel from 1962, where we meet him at his most melodious. This description of a gentle angel is part of a triptych. ‘Milonga’ is a South American dance, fore-runner to the tango.

The rest of the disc presents a dozen composers, both younger and older than Piazzolla. The oldest is Angel Villoldo, a pioneer of the Argentinian tango. El Choclo (The Corncob) was first played on 3 November 1903 at a restaurant in Buenos Aires. Since the owner of the restaurant didn’t like tangos, the composer named it Danza Criolla. El Choclo was, according to the composer’s sister, the nickname of “a disreputable character with fair hair.” Everyone will recognise the tune, even though they don’t know the name. Well-known, both the title and the tune, is Rodriguez’s La Cumparsita, written in 1916. It is also known as a song.

Probably the most famous tango singer is Carlos Gardel, who for a couple of decades dominated the tango scene until 1935 when he died in an air crash. Shortly before that he had heard and met Astor Piazzolla and wanted to engage him for the tour he was soon to begin, but Piazzolla’s father said no. Piazzolla later said that if his father hadn’t been so strict, he would have been playing the harp instead of the bandoneon. Gardel’s songs are still frequently performed and Plácido Domingo recorded a handful of them in the early 1980s. El dia que me quieras is one of his best.

Eladia Blázquez was not only a composer but also pianist, guitarist and singer. She recorded her first tango album in 1970, which included Sueño de barrilete (Dream of a Kite), composed as early as 1959 but published much later. This is another highly attractive tune.

Among latter day guitar compositions Roland Dyens’s Tango en Skaï is probably one of the most popular. It was intended as a caricature of the Argentinian tango. Dyens, who passed away two years ago, said: “In French ‘skaï’ means imitation leather, perhaps worse than bad plastic! It has to be played with a lot of humour, a maximum of dynamics and a minimum of rubato.” Egberto Gismonti, like Piazzolla before him, went to Paris and studied with Nadia Boulanger. He was self-taught as guitarist and has carried out a fifty-year-long career as virtuoso on the instrument. In Agua y Vinho (Water and Wine) there is a taste of Brazilian saudade, beautifully meditative and sensitively played – one of the finest readings here.

João Teixeira Guimarães is also known under the name of João Pernambuco. He recorded Sons de Carrilhöes in 1926. The revised version, played here, was made in 1978 by Turibio Santos. This charming piece also belongs to the really well-known guitar works. Another Brazilian guitarist and composer, Dilermando Reis, specialised in waltzes, and Se Ela Perguntar (If She Asks) is an unusually slow waltz, attractively melodious. Venezuelan Antonio Lauro also wrote waltzes, but the three recorded here are very fast. Lauro has long been among my favourite guitar composers and these waltzes, in particular Valse Venezuelano No. 3, belong to those pieces I often return to. Having never, as far as I can remember, heard anything by Abel Fleury, I was immediately caught by Te vas milonga and added it to my favourite list. As for the next Milonga (tr. 20) there is some confusion concerning who is the composer. The track-list says Ernesto Cordero but the liner notes say Jorge Cardoso. Whichever wrote it it’s a nice piece.

The concluding piece, Violetas by guitarist and teacher Julio Sagreras, is yet another waltz and rounds off a very attractive programme. The playing is straightforward and not too sophisticated, but I enjoyed the whole disc immensely and will certainly return to it. It is a disc for relaxation as well as close listening.

Göran Forsling

Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992)
1. Libertango [4:16]
2. Oblivion [2:36]
3. Triumfal [3:04]
4. Adios nonino [4:44]
5. Chiquilin de Bachin [3:45]
6. Verano porteño [4:45
7. Milonga del Angel [5:12]
Angel VILLOLDO (1861 – 1919)
8. El chocio [4:02]
Gerardo Matos RODRIGUEZ (1897 – 1948)
9. La Cumparsita [3:55]
Carlos GARDEL (1890 – 1935)
10. El dia que me quieras [3:54]
Eladia BLÁZQUEZ (1931 – 2005)
11. Sueño de barrilete [3:40]
Roland DYENS (1955 – 2016)
12. Tango en Skaï [2:52]
Egberto GISMONTI (b. 1947)
13. Agua y vinho [4:04]
João Teixeira GUIMARÃES (1883 – 1947)
14. Sons de Carrilhões [2:32]
Dilermando REIS (1916 – 1977)
15. Se ela perguntar [2:49]
Antonio LAURO (1917 – 1986)
16. El Marabino [1:20]
17. Valse Venezelano No. 2 [1:12]
18. Valse Venezelano No. 3 [1:50]
Abel FLEURY (1903 – 1958)
19. Te vas milonga [2:04]
Ernesto CORDERO (b. 1948)
20. Milonga [4:05]
Julio SAGRERAS (1879 – 1942)
21. Violetas [2:09]


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