The great strength of Astor Piazzolla's music was that it looked forward to a time when the distinction between classical and popular will dissolve; it is not really describable as either one. Like Gershwin's, it can be pushed in a classical direction and will stand up nicely to such treatment. There are several ways to go about making a classical Piazzolla disc, one of which is to arrange his music for traditional concert-music ensembles. Another is to rely on the music Piazzolla himself composed with classical performance contexts in mind, most of which comes from the very beginning of his career (when he was a student of Alberto Ginastera) or from the very end, when ensembles rushed to commission new music from the aging bandoneón player. This disc combines the two approaches, offering the early Sinfonia Buenos Aires, Op. 15 (1951) and late Concerto for bandoneón, string orchestra, and percussion (1979) along with orchestral arrangements of the familiar Cuatro estaciones porteñas (Four Buenos Aires Seasons) and a new one of the tango Mar del Plata 70. The result is something of a mixed bag, for the music, so to speak, competes with the arrangements. The symphonic Carlos Franzetti version (more of a reworking) of the Cuatro estaciones porteñas romanticizes the music, bringing out its lush harmonies at the expense of tango rhythms, while the bandoneón concerto, with its accompaniment of straight strings, is written so as to maximize the instrument's percussive attack. The two pieces are completely different in effect, and on top of that the Sinfonia Buenos Aires, along with the rest of the composer's early works, stands somewhat aside from the sound for which he is best known -- the tango element is there, but it's not quite in the foreground as it would be a few years later. Positive points are a superb performance by bandoneón player Juan José Mosalini in the concerto, the tropical mood coaxed from a small German orchestra by conductor Gabriel Castagna, and the general ability of Piazzolla's music to reveal new features when it is transferred to a different set of instruments; a negative is the booklet, which contains two essays that overlap but simultaneously manage to overlook important issues and go way beyond what is justified in asserting that the Cuatro estaciones porteñas were intended as an homage to Vivaldi. Piazzolla fans will find a good performance of the concerto here, and nothing is really amiss with the rest of the music, but buyers looking to start with classical Piazzolla may find a more coherent experience with one of Gidon Kremer's Piazzolla discs.
Piazzolla: Symphonic Works, Vol. 2 Review
by James Manheim