Anja Lechner

Tango à Trois

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This disc, taken live from a 1995 Munich concert, offers something different from the mainstream of tango discs that have come on the market since the genre exploded in popularity around that time. Although he includes an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango here, Austrian-born composer and pianist Peter Ludwig doesn't follow Piazzolla's example in anything more than the general attempt to fuse the tango with classical music. Ludwig has a sound that's all his own. His tangos (there are also a few waltzes and other rhythms of a century ago) are written in the distinctly classical medium of the piano trio, which in itself removes the music quite a distance from its original Argentine context. His tango rhythms are on the simple side, often making use of the dotted quarter note -- eighth note -- two quarter notes shorthand for the tango favored by non-Latin musicians in the music's early days (hear Scott Joplin's Solace, for example). When the trio does turn to the Libertango (here spelled Liber tango) at the end, there's quite in increase in the tension level. Ludwig's harmonic language is also simpler than Piazzolla's, with few of the bracing extended chords Piazzolla picked up from the French neo-Classical side of his background.

Yet the music here does not come off as prettified tango from a 1920s salon. Ludwig's distinctive contribution is his scoring for the piano trio, which is rich and filled with unusual textural and registral effects. Sample the high pedal point at the top of the piano keyboard in the Tango Nuevo, track 2, or the graceful evolution of the melody from piano to cello to violin, and then its gradual enrichment and intensification, in the Tango Triste, track 10. Ludwig seems to be taking up the long-term project, the one cut off by George Gershwin's death from brain cancer, of forging a language of classical music that's anchored in popular roots, and the overall effect of this music is something like what one might have expected from Antonín Dvorák had he lived another 20 years and followed up his American sojourn with one to Argentina. The live sound is just fair, with lots of audience coughing, but it also picks up the enthusiasm of the occasion. Tango enthusiasts may or may not go for this rather Germanic treatment of the music, but in its way it testifies to tango's growing reach, and classical chamber players and students may well wish to investigate it further -- one of Ludwig's 14 short pieces here would spice up any recital program. Ludwig's literate and entertaining notes are unfortunately in German only.

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