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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Los Pájaros Perdidos
Michelangelo ’70 [2:55]
Invierno Porteño [6:04]
Verano Porteño [6:14]
Milonga del angel [6:10]
La muerte del angel [3:16]
Balada para un loco [4:56]
Los Pájaros Perdidos [3:38]
Soledad [8:08]
Concierto para quintet [9:20]
Wiesław Przadka Quinteto Tango Nuevo
Gosha Kowalinska (mezzo-soprano: Balada, Perdidas)
rec. 2021 Recpublica Studio, Lubrza, Poland
DUX 1752 [50:59]

2021 is the centenary of Astor Piazzolla’s birth and this is one of many albums released to mark the event. I must admit to being surprised that he died as long ago as 1992 as his music feels as ‘present’, vibrant and alive today as it ever has. My sense – based on no more than a awareness of how much of his music is now available on disc – is that his fame and more significantly musical influence, has grown since 1992. Piazzolla’s name is synonymous with two inter-linked things; the bandoneon and Tango Nuevo. The former is a type of concertina, originally from Germany that travelled to Latin America and specifically Argentina with 19th century emigrants and became the sound of Tango. In turn Piazzolla developed traditional tango and with a combination of classical training and jazz influences created the unique and wonderful hybrid known as New Tango.

In his lifetime, Piazzolla was prodigiously productive – the liner for this new disc mentions a catalogue of about 3000 compositions across a number of genres from his own groups, to string quartet, orchestral, vocal, operatic and film. Additionally he was the front player for a number of groups playing his music so there is a massive legacy of Piazzolla recordings both in the studio and concert. Piazzolla was a phenomenal virtuoso on the bandoneon himself so this recorded legacy remains the starting point for any collector of Tango Nuevo. Many of the performances there are simply sensational and a daunting challenge for any new interpreter. The music has attracted a wide range of performers and ensembles as this is fusion/cross-over music of the very highest order. This is because the music itself developed originally as a fusion of styles and the audible influence of popular song jostling with strutting tango rhythms against a classical fugue clothed in jazz harmonies is the essence of the form.

Piazzolla wrote for – and has been performed by – a variety of soloists, ensembles and genres but for me the purest, original and best format is his Quinteto Tango Nuevo. This five-piece line-up is bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and bass. As mentioned, Piazzolla was one of the great exponents of the bandoneon and in his hand-picked quintets he surrounded himself with equally brilliant technical and musical personalities. It is a significant measure of just how good this new disc is that the Polish members of Wiesław Przadka’s Quinteto Tango Nuevo are equally assured and idiomatically impressive. Indeed, this is a very welcome disc indeed as it adds new and vibrant interpretations of several famous Piazzolla scores which are idiomatic without being slavish copies of the originals. Much as I have enjoyed the numerous recordings of Piazzolla reworked for symphony orchestra or larger groups, none manage to embody the edge and posture of the originals. Przadka writes a preface to the liner (in Polish and English only) where he outlines his discovery of this genre, as well as his struggles to master the bandoneon. He then goes on to describe how he created this quintet from a group of close friends from across several musical fields. Violinist Marcin Suszycki is a prize-winning player and orchestral leader, pianist Rafał Karasiewicz works in the fields of jazz, theatre and music production. Guitarist Marek Piątek is another multi-genre performer spanning classical, jazz, “gypsy swing” and bossa nova while bassist Zbigniew Wrombel is one of Poland’s leading jazz bassists. Finally, for two of numbers recorded here they are joined by mezzo-soprano Gosha Kowalinska who was the title lead in Piazzolla’s opera Maria de Buenos Aires in Warsaw.

The engineering on this Dux disc is very good and appropriate to the style of the music. The sound is close and tight – the violin feels as though it has been recorded via a pick-up perhaps? – but every instrument registers with great clarity and weight. The playing itself is superb – relaxed and stylish but with the edge and precision that is so vital to this music. Piazzolla is such a quixotic composer – within a five minute composition he can range from athletically rhythmical dance sections to a kind of cabaret schmaltz and back again. I must admit I do not respond quite as enthusiastically to his songs as his instrumental pieces. But I have to say Kowalinska is quite excellent at catching the emotional range of the songs which go from a kind of Weill-out-of-the–Kit-Kat-Club-via-Paris sentimentality to a dominatrix power ballad. Very frustratingly the booklet does not include any lyrics to either of the songs presented here [they can be found online: Balada para un loco and Los Pájaros Perdidos] or – such a mistake – any explanation of why the programme given was chosen or the context of the music overall in Piazzolla’s compositional life. The nicely produced booklet simply includes the (interesting) artist biographies and the aforementioned introduction by Przadka.

The other disappointment is the shortness of the programme which only just breaks the fifty minute mark. All of the pieces are wonderfully and – as discussed – superbly played, but hard not to be left wanting more. Several Piazzolla “standards” are included – two of the “seasons” he wrote; Invierno Porteño and Verano Porteño as well as two more of the ‘angel’ series Milonga del Ángel and La muerte del Ángel. The disc closes with a scintillating version of Concierto para quinteto which does give the quintet here one last chance to display their many and rich talents. The programme includes three tracks from the album Piazzolla considered his greatest achievement – Tango – Zero Hour but not his two most popular compositions – Libertango or Oblivion.

My one observation – not a criticism – is that violinist Marcin Suszycki does not play with the same soulful intensity of Piazzolla’s own Fernando Suárez Paz. Paz was a uniquely brilliant player who aside from his violin playing was also a master of the “Yeites”. These are a series of percussive effects performed on the violin meant to create sound effects such as cicada, rain drop, broom, whip and siren. Suszycki plays them but perhaps without the last ounce of imperious, almost casual authority Paz achieved.

But ultimately this new album should be seen as one that seeks to further and develop the performing tradition of new tango rather than simply repeating or aping the triumphs of the past. As such it is a very fine achievement and a disc that will hopefully introduce ever more people to the seductive and exhilarating sound world of Astor Piazzolla.

Nick Barnard

Wiesław Przadka – bandoneon, Marcin Suszycki – violin, Rafał Karasiewicz – piano, Marek Piątek – electric guitar, Zbigniew Wrombel – double bass

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