Piazzolla Live, new material

Live recordings of new material

Concierto para bandoneon & Tres Tangos for bandoneon and orchestra performed with the Orchestra of St. Luke's. This CD is available on Electra/Nonesuch (the same label as Kronos Quartet), and like Tango: Zero Hour (another Nonesuch release) is of very high quality. Most of the "classical" recordings of Piazzolla are take-offs on his Tangos, and are performed in the old "schmaltzy" classical style (tons of vibrato on the violins, feels like a 50's movie soundtrack) rather than the drier contemporary form I'm used to (and prefer). These pieces, however, are composed by Piazzolla, and he plays them with the orchestra.

Excerpts from the liner notes:
Piazzolla's Concierto para bandoneon, commissioned by the Banco Provincia de Buenos Aires for a 1979 radio broadcast, resembles a baroque concerto grosso (cf. the back-to-Bach music of Stravinsky or Villa Lobos). It opens with a tutti, all business, brisk and marcato. The bandoneon takes a solo whose melody passes back to the orchestral tutti. More cantabile work by the soloist eventually leads to an interrupted cadenza, then a return of the first melodic solo and tutti. The code is deciso--decisve. Built on drive and repetition, the entire movement barely moves a hair's breadth from its B minor tonality.

The concerto's slow movemement begins with a long unaccompanied bandoneon melody in the finest "Bachianos argentiensis" style. For the first time we even get something like a traditional tango rhythm in the accompaniment. The finale, a rhythm Presto, alternates tonalities--driving A minor, graceful F-sharp minor--as well as a tutti and solo in approved concerto grosso fashion. At the very end, the tempo changes to moderato and the key to A major for an unexpected passionate "Melancolica final." The breathtaking bandoneon melody, apparently unrelated to anything previously heard, nonetheless seems a logical outcome. Thirteen two-bar repetitions, pp to ffff, furnishing a powerful close.

Piazzolla's score of Shakespeare's Songe D'Une Nuit D'Ete (Midsummer Night's Dream) is a real find. This CD is fairly difficult to locate in the US, as it is an import on the "Milan Sur" label. Piazzolla wrote this music for the Comedie Francaise's performance of Shakespeare's play. The recording is of excellent sound quality. One caveat: two songs feature french male singing. If this sort of thing really turns you off, you might not like the CD. However, if you can stand the four or five minutes of singing (or even like it!) then this CD is for you. Note that Piazzolla does not play on this recording: the "Ensemble Paris Tango" does the performing.

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz festival in Canada, The New Tango: Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton play Piazzolla's Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet. If you like the sound of the vibraphone and prefer your Tango with a jazzy touch, then you'll like this CD. Personnally, I'm not crazy about it, because the vibraphone lacks the dynamics to be subtle. I much prefer mallet instruments in the works of Steve Reich, where the instrument's mathematical precision is put to good use. The last few songs on this CD don't have any vibraphone playing, and those are the ones I prefer.

This low-quality cover and generically named CD fooled me into thinking this was a bad Piazzolla live recording. Nothing could be further from the truth! Piazzolla's Tango features Piazzolla playing at the Inernational Festival for Guitar (Belgium). The first piece is a nice orchestral version of Adios Nonino, followed by the 15 minute Concerto for Bandoneon and Guitar.

La Historia del Tango, volumes 1 and 2 are what you would expect: decently recorded and well performed versions of classic tangos. Piazzolla did not write any of these, but he does perform them.

Unfortunately, the recording quality of Grandes Exitos prevents me from recommending it. The entire recording is overloaded and distorts throughout. It just isn't listenable.