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Piazzolla angel 96431
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Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Para el Ángel
Jeroen van Veen (piano)
Rec. February 2021, Studio IV, Steffeln, Germany
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 96431 [79:17 + 76:50]

As a performer Piazzolla is best known for playing the bandoneon, the button accordion which he started playing at the age of eight. However, he could also play the piano and occasionally composed for it. Here we have mixture both of works written for the piano and of arrangements. They cover nearly the whole of his long career, from the early piano suite, given the opus number 2, written before he committed himself to working in tango, to works written late in his life.

That suite gives an idea of the kind of music Piazzolla might have composed had he not returned to tango. It is in three movements, and they are so clearly modelled on Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin as to amount practically to pastiche. Having said that, they are well and fluently done. More characteristic are most of the other works on the first disc here. Piazzolla is fond of dreamy openings, such as in Milonga del Ángel, the first work here, and I also noted Jacinto Chiclana from the 4 Canciones Porteñas and Vuelvo al sur as being particularly fine. Then they usually move to the typical syncopated rhythmic stamp, which Piazzolla enlivens with cunning harmonic writing as well as making a feature of the emphatic return to the tonic. I noted a number of these as classic Piazzolla, such as most of the numbers in Estaciones as well as El Viaje and Milonga. There are also a few pieces which seem weaker to me, such as Two Tango Preludes and Chiquilin de Bachin.

The second disc is more uneven. It contains two numbers much longer than the rest, Adiós Nonino and Mumuki, both of which seem to me to ramble. In some of the pieces he seems not so much to be writing a tango as offering a recreation of it, rather as Chopin’s waltzes are not written to dance to but to evoke the spirit of the waltz. Such pieces here include Ouverture and Street Tango. However, the highlight of this disc is the set of Six Tangos, which provide a survey of what the idiom can do. These are splendidly varied, from the obsessive and sinister Amelitango, where the opening brooding figure is developed and enhanced without a tune coming in on top, to the playful Novitango. The disc ends with perhaps Piazzolla’s best known work, Libertango.

Jeroen van Veen plays all these as to the manner born. I must give particular praise for the fact that in listening to him I did not miss the bandoneon, as I rather expected to. I had not come across him before but he has recorded a great deal, with a particular emphasis on minimalist music. The recording is good, but a bit close and needs some careful taming with the controls. One gripe I have is that in the sleevenote, which he wrote himself, he does not tell us which pieces were originally written for the piano and which are arrangements. The Six tangos were apparently written for the piano but with extra lines, which van Veen supplies using multi-tracking. So I was not sure whether I was admiring skilful piano writing by Piazzolla or skilful arranging by van Veen. Perhaps this does not matter. Those who like to hear their Piazzolla on the piano should be well content.

Stephen Barber

Ángel (1962-5) [10:56]
4 Canciones Porteñas (1965) [11:15]
Estaciones (1969-70) [17:46]
2 Tango Preludes (1987) [13:25]
El Viaje (1974) [4:43]
Milonga (1974) [2:02]
Vuelvo al sur (1972) [4:19]
Chiquilin de Bachin (1969) [3:40]
Michelangelo 70 (1969) [3:17]
Suite Para Piano Op. 2 (1943) [7:47]
Adiós Nonino, Tango Rhapsody (1959) [10:55]
Oblivion (1982) [4:03]
Ouverture (1974) [5:16]
Mumuki (1984) [8:05]
Street Tango (1988) [4:34]
Milonga for Three (1988) [6:29]
Ausencias (1975) [4:36]
Six Tangos (1974) [29:29]
Libertango [3:18]

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