El Ultimo Tango

El Ultimo Tango Plays Astor Piazzolla

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The tango-classical fusions of Astor Piazzolla can stand up to a great variety of musical treatments, and indeed Piazzolla himself performed them with ensembles of various sizes and wrote for conventional classical forces on occasion. Treatments of Piazzolla's music by Gidon Kremer and others have proved that the bandoneón -- the concertina-like instrument that Piazzolla himself played -- is not necessary to a successful realization of his late-night mood. In this recording by El último tango, a group of players from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, a group of famous Piazzolla works are transcribed for the chamber ensemble of flute, saxophone, cello, piano, and double bass (one piece, Oblivion, is played by cello and piano alone). Throughout, the group emphasizes the French neo-Classic shapes of Piazzolla's music and downplays its tango-ness.

Even over and above the missing bandoneón, they are at pains to minimize the rhythmic drive of Piazzolla's tangos. The piano is kept very much in check. It is indeed intriguing to realize that a great deal of otherwise hidden detail emerges from Piazzolla's music when this is done. His masterpiece Adiós Nonino here takes on the tuxedos and music stands of a piece of classical chamber music. It's unorthodox, but successful on its own terms. It's hard to imagine Piazzolla's very Argentine mood of despair and acerbity being replaced with a sort of potted-palm reserve, but sample and hear it for yourself -- and realize that there is still more to Piazzolla than you thought there was, for the music can stand up to this, too. This very British Piazzolla is nobody's choice for a first disc of music by the great Argentine, but those enamored of Piazzolla's classical side should give it a listen if only for the sheer novelty of the interpretation.

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