Part of the enduring fascination of Astor Piazzolla's tango music is that it is both more controlled and freer that it may at first seem. As performed by Piazzolla on bandoneón as part of his original Quinteto Tango Nuevo (often including violin, piano, guitar, and bass), his music had jazz accents and dimensions, but was nevertheless mostly compositionally specified as far as the tones went. In the realm of instrumentation, however, there is plenty of room for experiment; Piazzolla himself fooled with the instrumentation of his more famous pieces (especially "Adiós Nonino") on many occasions, and the growth of interest in his music has resulted in performances by orchestras, other small groups, and soloists of various kinds. If musicians originally felt that Piazzolla's noirish pieces were difficult, like those of Duke Ellington, to reproduce outside of their original performance contexts, they now realize that a strong "classical" component to his music allows for rewarding new interpretations by players working from a fixed set of elements but bringing their own contributions on board.
The combination of string quartet and bandoneón offered on this German disc of favorite Piazzolla tangos follows on Piazzolla's own collaboration with the Kronos Quartet and draws on some of the innovative string-playing techniques of that San Francisco ensemble. It has its positive and negative points; listeners can weigh the balance through Internet sampling. For most, the extreme weakening of the music's rhythmic dimension brought about by the elimination of the piano, guitar, and bass will go in the negative column, even if Piazzolla did occasionally compose for strings. Bandoneón player Helmut Abel and cellist Christiane Pape have to compensate by exaggerating the rhythms on their own instruments, and the result is a jittery quality. Pape has to slap her cello at times, an unconvincing effect, and the Fortuna Quartett struggles to make other Piazzolla effects seem natural. On the other hand, this approach brings out many structural details that are hidden in more conventional Piazzolla recordings, and the liner notes There may never have been another Piazzolla performance in which his music sounds so close to the French neo-Classicism the composer went to Paris to learn. At times, although most of the 12 tangos on the album are very well known, the music comes off sounding a bit like one of Milhaud's South American experiments. The album, incidentally, seems to be called Oda para un hippie simply because the performers liked that Piazzolla work title; Oda para un hippie is the longest piece on the album but otherwise has no special significance in the selection. The bottom line is that this disc will make you hear Piazzolla's music in a new way; collectors of his music and fans of the crossover string quartet scene may well be very intrigued by it, but it's essentially a curiosity.