Various Artists

Tangología

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Why does it seem to be Europeans who have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the project of performing Astor Piazzolla's music on conventional classical instruments? Piazzolla has plenty of adherents in America, and one of the most famous groups to come at him from the classical side, the Kronos Quartet, was American. But each week seems to bring a new Piazzolla release from some orchestra or chamber group. Perhaps it has to do with a hunger for classical works rooted in a popular language -- America hasn't solved this problem, but it does have its Gershwins, its Ellingtons, its Bernsteins. The tradition of performing Piazzolla's music on conventional classical instruments has been especially strong in Belgium, where Piazzolla (in Liège) gave an enthusiastically received concert in the 1980s that pushed his thinking back toward classical contexts in the last years of his life, and here a group of Belgian players interprets some familiar Piazzolla pieces on a variety of duos and trios, in arrangements by Pablo Ziegler and José Bragato. Piazzolla's music finds a congenial home with such combinations as the piano trio or cello and piano, for the combinations can capture both the zest of the tango underpinnings of the music and the variety of textures intrinsic to its local structures. Classical performances of Piazzolla often diminish the rhythmic element, which is not fatal -- there's enough in Piazzolla's music to stand up to a variety of interpretations. But this group, especially pianist Sébastien Liénart, keeps the focus on the dance rhythms and lets the fugues and inversions grow naturally out of them. Several pieces are performed on a piano duo, and these too work well -- if one had to choose one Piazzolla work to perform this way, it would be the tragic and elegiac Adiós Nonino, a tribute to the composer's father. The music is intense, lush, passionate, and gloomy, just like Piazzolla's own recordings of his works. One might marvel at the extremely elliptical booklet notes (what does "if the internal horizon constitutes the target for the future of the tango, it is not, otherwise, either random or arbitrary" mean?), but this is one of the most successful among the growing body of recordings under the heading Classical Piazzolla.

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