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Lucienne Renaudin Vary (trumpet)
Piazzolla Stories
Richard Galliano (accordion); Thibaut Garcia (guitar)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Sascha Goetzel
Quatuor Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo
rec. 2020, Auditorium Rainier III, Monte-Carlo 
WARNER CLASSICS 9029515563 [61:17]

Piazzolla Stories, Lucienne Renaudin Vary’s new album, is the trumpeter’s third release for Warner Classics. Vary acknowledges this collection as her personal tribute to the Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Recognised as one of the giants of twentieth-century tango music, Piazzolla helped popularise the style internationally and his legacy is legendary. Strangely, there is no mention in the album liner notes that 2021 is the hundredth anniversary of Piazzolla’s birth, as one might assume this landmark centenary is the reason behind the recording and release of this album.

Born in 1999 in Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loir, Vary was acknowledged as a child prodigy on the trumpet. In 2007 she became a student at Conservatoire du Mans and progressed to study at the Conservatoire de Paris. Based in the European concert scene, Vary also tours extensively and is establishing herself as a trumpeter of international renown. Typically for a trumpeter today, her repertoire seems to be a combination of popular classical and jazz works together with musical theatre and opera, and now tango has been added to it.

In 2016, Warner signed the then seventeen-year-old trumpeter who was receiving many plaudits for her playing. Vary’s debut release for them was in 2017 with The Voice of the Trumpet a collection of popular classical works from Handel to Gershwin with forays into musicals and opera. In 2019, her follow-up album Mademoiselle in New York comprised of works with a Paris to New York theme, featuring Bernstein and Gershwin to Ravel and Aznavour.

There are fourteen works on the album most of which were originally songs. Piazzolla has the lion’s share, with eight works from a prodigious output that has been estimated at some three thousand pieces, including classical concertos, suites and a symphony. Of the transcriptions, arrangements or orchestrations employed for Vary’s trumpet part and orchestra, over half were prepared by pianist and composer Jérôme Ducros. On most works Vary is joined by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Sascha Goetzel, and for two works she is accompanied by a string quartet from the orchestra.

Piazzolla was four when he moved with his parents to New York City, where they spent over a decade. Piazzolla was already writing his own music and had just entered his teens when in 1933 he met tango star Carlos Gardel and played the bandoneón for him. Undoubtedly Piazzolla saw the value of music study and from this time on, sought as much assistance as he could, studying at various times over what was to be a twenty-two-year period. Piazzolla’s teachers included Bela Wilda for piano, Alberto Ginastera for composition, Raúl Spivak for piano and while in France he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger. Piazzolla not only composed and arranged, he was a celebrated exponent of the bandoneón in tango ensembles, gaining valuable experience by endless bouts of touring. As a bandleader in his own right, Piazzolla formed several of his own ensembles with line-ups varying in size and variety of sound including Orquesta Típica, Octeto Buenos Aires, Jazz Tango Quintet, Nuevo Octeto and Conjunto 9.

In the late 1950s, tango music changed course to cater for the youth culture of the country who insisted on a style of music more appropriate to their society. Famously, many musicians and composers, with Piazzolla in the vanguard, responded with the Nuevo Tango. This Nuevo Tango music broadened the scope of the traditional Argentine tango by incorporating characteristics of popular music, jazz and classical music and became internationally popular. In this Piazzolla centennial, aficionado Steven Schick music professor, percussionist and conductor enthuses that ‘Piazzolla’s vitality came in his ability to cross the boundaries of style and genre’.

Vary is without doubt a talented trumpet soloist, clearly a versatile performer able to take several different styles in her stride. Of the Piazzolla works on the album standing out are the attractive waltz-tango Chiquilín de Bachín with guitarist Thibaut Garcia and two pieces of memorable beauty from his film score to Marco Bellocchio’s Enrico IV (1984) namely the Ave Maria (Tanti anni prima) and the much-loved Oblivion.

There are six non-Piazzolla works written by Alberto Ginastera, Richard Galliano, J.S. Bach, Nadia Boulanger, Niccolò Paganini and Carlos Gardel. Of those, especially enjoyable is the genial dance Danza de la moza donosa, the second of Alberto Ginastera’s set of three Danzas Argentinas. The captivating composition Tango pour Claude by Richard Galliano, considered by many to be Piazzolla’s heir, is compellingly played by Vary ably assisted by Galliano himself, but disappointingly on accordion, rather than the traditional bandoneón.

Much admired, too, is Volver from Carlos Gardel’s score to John Reinhardt’s 1935 musical film El día que me quieras (The day you will love me), such a tuneful and introspective piece. The solo trumpet transcription of the Presto from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No.1, BWV 1001 and excerpts from the famous theme and variations from Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin, Op. 1, certainly display Vary’s virtuosity, but I am not sure they work in this tango programme. Although it is presented in a quite different mood, I feel similarly about the trumpet arrangement of the Lux Aeterna by Nadia Boulanger.

Vary plays extremely well, displaying focus and steadfast intonation, however, time will tell if she is able to join the ranks of elite trumpeters who have played or are playing on the classical music scene, such as Maurice André, John Wallace, Wynton Marsalis, Håkan Hardenberger, Alison Balsom, and Tine Thing Helseth, who has made great strides. The overall sound on the album reminds me more of the tango equivalent of ‘dinner jazz’ such as the smooth and uncomplicated, easy listening atmosphere created by cross-over artists like the trumpeter Till Brönner and trombonist Nils Landgren. Of course, Piazzolla would experiment with various styles, sounds and approaches. The brand of tango music I find special has an earthy sound combined with a sultry nocturnal atmosphere such as that created by tango players with roots in small specialist ensembles that replicate performances in the clubs and bars of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and other world cities. Here, Vary is accompanied largely by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo resulting in playing which sounds both overly smooth and plushly upholstered, a middle-of-the-road approach that is not especially to my taste. Of course, there is room for all manner of styles but for those wanting a more traditional tango sound, this is not it. 

Recorded at the Auditorium Rainier III at Monte-Carlo, the quality of sound is pleasing for its clarity and balance. In truth, the booklet does not amount to much. It contains a works and track list, but sadly there is no essay, only a short note by Vary which is in effect a thank you to her collaborators., The playing time of the album is not at all generous at just over an hour. Conspicuous by their absence are Piazzolla’s much loved Libertango and Adiós nonino, which I would have loved to have been included, and several other pieces might easily have been accommodated.

Michael Cookson

Astor PIAZZÓLLA (1921-1992)
1. Chinchin [4:07]
Transcription - Jérôme Ducros
2. Oblivion [3:40]
Arranged for trumpet and orchestra - Bob Zimmerman
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
3. Danzas Argentinas: Danza de la moza donosa [3:44]
Transcription for string quartet and trumpet - Jérôme Ducros
4. Maria de Buenos Aires [11:56]
Orchestration - Jérôme Ducros
Richard GALLIANO (b. 1950)
5. Tango pour Claude [4:56]
Orchestration - Richard Galliano
6. Chiquilín de Bachín [3:32]
Transcription - Jérôme Ducros
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
7. Presto from Violin Sonata, BWV1001 [4:20]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
8. Cantique from Lux Aeterna [1:51]
Orchestration - Jérôme Ducros
9. Chau Paris [2:49]
Reduction for string quartet and trumpet - Massimo Morganti
10. Ave Maria - Tanti anni prima (Many years ago) [4:51]
Orchestration - Jérôme Ducros
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
11. Theme & Variations 1-5, 7, 9-11 from Caprice No. 24 for solo violin,
Op. 1, No. 24 in A minor [4:35]
12. Années de solitude (Years of Solitude) [4:04]
Orchestration - Jérôme Ducros
13. Close Your Eyes and Listen [5:22]
Orchestration - Jérôme Ducros
Carlos GARDEL (1890-1935)
14. Volver, [3:23]
Arranged - Didier Benetti

Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Sascha Goetzel
Quatuor Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo (tracks 3, 4)
Richard Galliano (accordion) (track 5)
Thibaut Garcia (guitar) (track 6)

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