In the early 1980s, American pianist Yvar Mikhashoff commissioned no fewer than 127 tangos from a broad range of composers from 30 countries. A few were lost or never completed, but Mikhashoff presented 88 tangos in a marathon 1985 concert and later issued a recording featuring 19 works. This release by pianist Hanna Shybayeva does not duplicate Mikhashoff's recording, although there are some works in common. It's especially valuable because Mikhashoff's tango collection, inspired by the pianist's earlier stint as a ballroom dancer, has never been published; it's held in a library at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In an era when composers are trying to reestablish links between concert music and its popular surroundings, Mikhashoff's project seems a good bet for revival, and Shybayeva's set gives an idea of what could be gained. She navigates skillfully among the various kinds of pieces composers made of the basic tango material. There are some well-known composers here: Milton Babbitt's It Takes Twelve to Tango is of a piece with his 12-tone jazz piece All Set, and Michael Nyman is represented by the somewhat ironically titled A Neat Slice of Tango. But there are also some real finds. Sample Tom Johnson's delightful Tango, where the tango rhythms push against the slight variations in the minimalist upper parts. The underappreciated Frederic Rzewski calls for the pianist to stamp her feet. Shybayeva takes a subtle approach to several humorous works, like William Schimmel's Fromage Dangereux, but she can play a melancholy tango straight. Composers take up the rhythmic aspects of the tango, its melodic tendencies, or just its general mood, and they may juxtapose the tango with modern classical styles. The late Mikhashoff's experiment suggests many new avenues, and Shybayeva is to be commended for rediscovering it.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim