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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Le Grand Tango [11:16]
Revirando [3:24]
Introducción, Muerte and Milonga del Angel [16:16]
Violentango [3:32]
Undertango [4:01]
Michelangelo 70 [3:11]
Tangata [8:08]
Soledad [8:05]
Decarisimo [2:46]
Adios Nonino [6:01]
Suite: Porteńa de Ballet [11:54]
Libertango [4:16]
Buenos Aires Hora Cero [3:58]
Verano Porteńo [6:26]
Fuga y misterio [5:05]
Oblivíon [4:52]
Duo Praxedis
rec. January 2021, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg
ARS PRODUKTION ARS38592 [2 CDs: 113:13]

To quote from the booklet: “Since its foundation in 2010, the stated mission of the mother-and-daughter duo [Praxedis Hug-Rütti (harp) and Praxedis Genevičve Hug (piano)] has been to revive the once-popular repertory for harp and piano that bourgeoned between 1700 and 1915”. That was certainly the case with the first two of the duo’s four CD releases on the Ars Produktion label, but with the third and fourth they have gone rather off-message. The third (review) was devoted to the music of the harpist’s brother, Carl Rütti, while this latest two-disc set celebrates the centenary of Astor Piazzolla.

I well remember someone telling me, when I was very young, that a sign of the greatness of Bach’s music was that it could withstand just about any treatment anyone cared to mete out for it. And certainly Bach is one of those composers whose music is in no way diminished by transcription to just about any conceivable musical forces. It transpires that Piazzolla is another, and while he may have written many of his works not just with specific instrumental sonorities but with specific players in mind, the music in no way suffers from being subjected to all manner of weird and wonderful transcriptions. Who would have thought, for example, that a harp and piano duo would turn out to be not just a convincing, but also a compelling alternative to a traditional tango band? I suppose it makes sense - the percussive edge of the piano precisely pointing the aggressive rhythmic thrusts of the tango, while the harp adds those sensuous elements – but even then, it came as a big surprise to me that this all worked so well and that the two instruments merged together so effectively to bring Piazzolla’s distinct sound world very much to life. In fact, the instrumental forces seem singularly well suited to Piazzolla’s own homage to Bach – the Fuga y misterio – while possibly Piazzolla’s most famous piece, Oblivíon, takes on a new and utterly enchanting quality in these new instrumental clothes. Clearly Hug-Rütti and her daughter found this exploration into Piazzolla’s world irresistible since they seem to have been unable to confine their programme to a single disc.

Most of the arrangements have bene made by the duo themselves, but there are a few by Pablo Ziegler, who was a member of Piazzolla’s own quintet for more than a decade. One of his arrangements is Buenos Aires Hora Cero which is unique in having extra-musical sound-effects added. Indeed, so surprising and unexpected were these that, when first listening to the disc in the car as I drove through the lonely forests of Galloway, the vivid and very forward calling of exotic jungle birds projected over the piano and harp almost shocked me into running off the road. Listening to the disc in the cold light of my domestic listening room, I still find these bird calls obtrusive and, not to beat about the bush, silly. Ziegler’s version of Verano Porteńo, complete with aggressive crashing piano clusters, semes to wander rather further away from Piazzolla’s original than the others, although I particularly like here the gracefulness of Hug’s harp, which adds a welcome touch of elegance to a somewhat clumsy arrangement. Otherwise, though, everything works well, with music driven along by Hug-Rütti’s energised and rhythmically pulsating piano playing and Hug’s colourful and delicately nimble harp playing.

Marc Rochester

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