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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Sinfonietta 1953 for Chamber Orchestra [16:19]
Adios Nonino [5:55]
Tangazo - Variations on Buenos Aires (1970) [14:00]
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires for Bandoneon and String Orchestra (1965-70) [24:51]
Oblivion [4:07]
Lothar Hensel (bandoneon)
Neue Philharmonie Wesfalen/Rasmus Baumann
rec. March and April 2021, Grosser Saal de Neuen Philharmonie Westfalen, Recklinghausen, Germany
HD-KLASSIK SC-862102 [65:16]

Astor Piazzolla is most famous for pieces like Libertango and Oblivion, and these can of course be heard in all kinds of arrangements. This album has been titled “Tango Nuevo - A Symphonic Tribute to Astor Piazzolla on His Centennial”, and with a few well-known numbers as fillers, this excellent programme delivers much less frequently performed larger-scale works that are filled with that typical Piazzolla flavour of the tango, but with an extended dramatic range.

This is very true of the Sinfonietta 1953, which draws on the influences of Bartók, Stravinsky and others to create a work of remarkable depth and character. The first movement has driving rhythmic force and plenty of signature tango sonorities, such as low, sliding string melodies, an important role for the piano, and rasping percussion in the opening. The second movement is dark and sustained, gathering power through advancing counterpoint, using low winds and funereal timpani to create a sinister nocturnal atmosphere. The finale is marked Jubiloso, but aside from lively rhythms it doesn’t immediately release us from the dramatic hold of the second movement. Tango emerges, but it is expressionistic and distorted. This piece won Piazzolla awards and acclaim, and proved to be a turning point in his career. Tangazo - Variations on Buenos Aires has some connections with the Sinfonietta in its seriousness of intent and its dark introduction, but as a ‘declaration of love for the Argentine capital’ it takes us into the animated night-life of the cities port bars, complete with stabbing strings and piano, with the added sparkle of piccolo and light percussion. Moods both poignant, animated and dramatic make this into something of a cinematic spectacular, with whooping horns adding to a final climax before we are let down with a slow coda like a hangover at sunrise.

A further tribute to this great city can be heard in The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which I note was also performed as part of the Proms season in London in 2021. With some nice solo parts for violin this partners nicely with Vivaldi’s ubiquitous Four Seasons, but it was not originally conceived as a cycle or as a concerto and its movements were only brought together after individual premieres with Piazzolla’s quintet between 1965 and 1970. There are arguably some baroque traits to be found here, but even with some moments of counterpoint and ‘classical’ textures the unmistakable Piazzolla Nuevo Tango style is the main driving force of the piece. This arrangement with string orchestra has been made by bandoneon player Lothar Hensel, and it is his expertise and the typical colour of his instrument that keeps this and Adios Nonino reasonably close to their original versions.

The tear-jerker Adios Nonino in this version is worth a mention in its own right, being a revival of an arrangement by José Bragato, a friend of Piazzolla who worked with him as a cellist and copyist. Lothar Hensel had a copy of this manuscript and made a performing version for this premiere recording, which is very nice indeed. The programme concludes with Oblivion, which was originally composed as film music for a movie called Enrico IV. This orchestration includes sliding timpani and warmly sentimental strings, ably communicating the piece’s emotional themes of love and loss of memory.

As ever, Ingo Schmidt-Lucas’s recording is refined and detailed, and this is a fascinating and well performed programme. There are few enough recordings available of the more symphonic pieces here, and where they do pop up, such as with the Four Seasons in a recording for Naxos by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (review), you will find that these in any case are different versions, in this case with solo violin. With the Sinfonia Buenos Aires and Bandoneon Concerto included this is certainly a release worth exploring, but is more complementary than in competition with this HD-Klassik disc.

Dominy Clements

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