Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lento Meditativo

What was Piazzolla thinking? Tango etude no. 4 was composed for solo flute and it is marked Lento Meditativo which suggests that the musician play it slowly and meditatively. Flutes don't do that. Flutes are for butterflies, dancing on tiptoe and Allegro Vivace. Lento Meditativo is for cellos, bassoons and the left face of a bandoneon; or, for alto saxophone and pipe organ as demonstrated in today's featured video.

While this blog usually demands video of a live performance, I have made an exception for this performance by Isabella Stabio on alto saxophone and Luca Massaglia on organ. The video is a series of stills but the recording is live and captures the ambiance of the site, St. Peter's Italian's Church in London. It is clearly still a solo but the organ provides an unobtrusive and appropriate accompaniment which adds to the Meditativo mood of the piece. It is one of the most effective performances of the piece I have heard (and, to avoid unpleasant comments from my flute playing friends, I admit that I have also heard effective and Meditativo performances on flute).

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Buenos Aires Hora Cero - Pétrol-17

It's energy not finesse that makes today's video stand out from the crowd. The Québécois quartet, Pétrol-17, attacks and conquers Buenos Aires Hora Cero at the Lion d'Or in Montréal in the video.

Pétrol-17 members include Marie-Pierre d'Aigle (violin), Samuel Caron (harmonica), Benjamin Tremblay Carpentier (Guitar), and Mingan Sauriol (piano). They classify themselves as an acoustic/thrash/jam band on their mySpace page - seems to fit. Their interpretation is not that far from Piazzolla's original - someone is a careful listener. The concept of the piece was to depict what happens at "zero hour" - the midnight instant of discontinuity between yesterday and today. And what happens is, as the expression goes, all hell breaks loose. A fitting target for an acoustic/thrash/jam band. Some may quibble with the replacement of the bandoneón with a harmonica but if you open up a bandoneón it is nothing more than a set of harmonicas arranged to use a mechanical bellows and buttons rather than lungs and a tongue. I am not sure Pétrol-17 would deliver a good version of Milonga del angel, but for Hora Cero - they are a good choice.

Unanswered questions: Why would Pétrol-17 choose to play Hora Cero? There must be a Piazzolla fan in that band. Who is it? The guitarist is my suspect.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Milonga del Ángel - Nikolai Svishev

There are hints of bossa nova and more than a touch of jazz in today's video of Milonga del ángel performed by Nikolai Svishev. Milonga del ángel provides one of Piazzolla's most hauntingly beautiful melodies and it seems to lend itself particularly well to solo guitar. This is one of the best solo guitar performances of the piece I have heard.

Most of the guitar performances of Milonga del ángel fall into a Spanish classical mode but Svishev provides a wonderfully flowing, unhurried and heartfelt version that I find difficult to pigeonhole in any genre. Perhaps that is because Svishev himself is difficult to classify as guitarist. Born in Siberia near Lake Baikal, he moved to Novosibirsk (surprisingly, a center of Piazzolla performances) where he studied music and engineering - ultimately settling into a career in music. With the help of Chet Atkins, who knows a thing or two about guitar skills, Svishev arrived in the U.S. and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina. His influences are Siberian jazz, Django gypsy, Brazilian Jobim, and with current studies at the University of South Carolina, classical. Fortunately, rather than by being confused by this wealth of input, Svishev has synthesized a unique sound which I think will help him rise above the noise of many other aspiring guitar stars.

You may note something a little surprising in the video: an eight-string guitar. Not surprising are the good sounds in his other guitar videos ranging from Pachelbel to the Beatles on his YouTube Channel - check them out. I hope he adds some more Piazzolla soon.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Suite Punta Del Este - Coral and Fuga

As a follow-up to yesterday's blog on the first movement of Piazzolla's Suite Punta del Este, the remaining two movements of this work have now appeared on YouTube and are featured today.

The second movement is titled Coral. The Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, quotes Piazzolla as saying, "I imagine Bach playing it." I think you will find that an understandable statement upon watching the video. The third movement is titled Fuga and is a good example Piazzolla's mastery of the fugue format as he moves a variation of the opening movement theme from bandoneon to the strings to the woodwinds. Unlike some of Piazzolla's other symphonic works, I find the ending for Suite Punta del Este to be appropriate and satisfying.

You may also wish to view an interview with Piazzolla and Simón Blech which preceded the concert performance in these videos.

If the video does not appear below, click here for the Coral and here for the Fuga.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Suite Punta Del Este - Introduccion

Today's featured video is a Piazzolla original performance which is new to YouTube. It is the first movement of the Suite Punta del Este which was composed in 1980 while Piazzolla was vacationing in a rented home in the Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este. According to the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, the piece was inspired by Piazzolla's attendance to a concert in the Cathedral at Maldonaldo, the old city adjoining Punta del Este, and the piece was first performed in that Cathedral - not a typical Piazzolla venue - on March 2, 1980. Some critics view this as Piazzolla's most successful symphonic composition although his Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra is much more frequently performed.

The performance in this video is, I believe, from a November, 1980 concert at the Estadio Obras Sanitarias in Buenos Aires with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional under the baton of Simón Blech. While the video quality is not the best, it provides a rare opportunity to see Piazzolla in a symphonic setting.

The music may be familiar to some. The theme from this first movement of Suite Punta del Este was used very effectively in the sound track of the Brad Pitt movie, 12 Monkeys.

A thank you goes to Benjamin Szvalb of San Juan, Argentina for posting this video. If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Llueve Sobre Broadway

Llueve sobre Broadway is an obscure Piazzolla tune lurking in plain sight in the readily available music book published by Hal Leonard: Astor Piazzolla for Violin & Guitar. The score is also available for piano from the French publisher, Universelles. As originally recorded, the title of the piece was When I go walking in the rain and the lyrics were sung in English. It was recorded by Piazzolla for an LP to be issued in the U.S. but to my knowledge, it was never issued. The recording has been preserved in a Japanese reissue, An Evening in Buenos Aires. I have found no other commercial recordings of Llueve sobre Broadway and it has not previously been posted on YouTube so today's video provides a rare chance to hear the work. There is a little information about the work in this image from what appears to be the first publication of the score: it is dated 1962 and lyrics for the song have been written in Spanish by Raul Gonzalez and in French by Albert Mayotte. With this hint, we can find a copyright reference to a song, While I Go Walking in the Rain, first registered in Europe (EU0000581709) on June 17, 1959 to A. Piazzolla and Raul Gonzalez. It is all the same song. The original, which I have heard on the Japanese reissue, is forgettable - pure American style pop-pap in the Lucky Strike Hit Parade style. But, beneath the saccharin exterior of that original there does exist a song with a decent flow and a pleasant melodic line which has largely gone unexplored.

The performers in the video, Nury Ulate, on flute, and David Mozqueda, on guitar, are wife and husband and have performed together as Duo Prelude since 1998. They are highly trained and skilled musicians and if we can only have one performance of Llueve sobre Broadway, I am glad it is theirs. They reside in Guadalajara, where this video was made, but perform all over the world. There are references in many of their reviews to three CD's they have recorded but I cannot find them for sale on the web.

My thanks to Duo Prelude for bringing this song back to our attention. Perhaps others will now apply their arranging and performing skills to the piece.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Without A Safety Net

Lorenzo Gatto and Denis Sungho Janssens, on violin and guitar, respectively, are clearly fearless young men to undertake a piece as challenging as Concert d'aujourd'hui at the breakneck speed of today's featured video. They are also incredibly talented young men because they not only survive the experience but repeat it in versions of Bordel 1900 and Nightclub 1960. All three performances were recorded at the Royal Brussels Conservatory in October of 2009 as part of a young person's concert presented by the Queen Elisabeth Competition.

The pieces are from Piazzolla's Histoire du tango originally written for flute and guitar. There is a fourth movement, Cafe 1930, but if Gatto and Sungho performed that one, it has not yet made it to YouTube. The first two movements are among the most frequently played Piazzolla pieces - there were more than 80 perfomances of each posted on YouTube in 2009. In contrast, there were only 14 performances posted of Concert d'aujourd'hui that year - perhaps because of the difficulty of the piece. Clearly it is not too difficult for these two fine musicians. But, technical skills are not end to themselves. The musicality of the performances could be improved with a bit of a slow down and a little more emphasis on phrasing.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Verano Porteño - Sejong

If you enjoy your Piazzolla antiseptically cleansed and served with cream and sugar you will enjoy today's video featuring the New York based chamber group, Sejong, playing Verano Porteño - the summer portion of Piazzolla's Four Seasons.

Sejong was formed by artistic director, Hyo Kang, in 1995 and has shared their musical abilities around the world since that date. Although the name presumeably refers to the 15th century Korean King, Sejong the Great (inventor of the Korean alphabet), the group is international with members from nine countries. The members are all soloists in the rest of their musical lives and together form one of the most talented chamber orchestras in the world.

The videography, the audio quality, the performance - they all approach perfection; but... is this really Piazzolla? I believe the arrangement is that of Leonid Desyatnikov - created initially for Gidon Kremer and his chamber orchestra. Undeniably beautiful, but the absence of tango soul and the glaring insertion of the Vivaldi licks is a continuing source of irritation to me. I am saddened to see this arrangement steadily displace the arrangement by Piazzolla's musical confidant, José Bragato, on the orchestral concert stage. After you watch this video, journey over to this video to watch Piazzolla and his Quintet perform the original.

What do you think? Is Sejong delivering perfection or perversion?

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Libertango - The Genre Buster

Whose song is it, anyway? Libertango took form as one of eight songs on an album, Libertango, designed to attract radio play in 1974. The album became a hit, even reviewed in Playboy magazine, and the song, Libertango, was covered by many artists around the world. It is today, without a doubt, the most frequently performed song composed by Piazzolla. In 2009, there were nearly 1,200 live performance versions of it posted on YouTube representing 27% of the posted Piazzolla performances. Performances spread across all genres - rock, pop, jazz, classical, tango - it seems to belong to everybody. No doubt part of the attraction is the simple chord structure, accessible to the most amateur of musicians, and the earworm nature of the melody but the creative ability of the performers to find something new in the song continues to amaze me. Five videos posted in recent days provide a good example of the range of covers.

Caution: this level of Libertango approaches a lethal dose.

First, a guitar focused version by Esteban Morgado and his quartet in the London tango club, Negracha. Libertango is a bit of a trademark for Morgado - you will find many covers by him on YouTube, all of them different and all of them good. The music is a bit difficult to classify - a blend of classical guitar, flamenco, jazz and tango (note the dancers in the club).

Second, a nightclub version by Luis Stazo and his octet for Tango Pasión at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. This is a slick, uptown version featuring two bandoneóns and is closer to the sound and intent of the original recording than any of the others in this blog.

Third, an orchestral version which begins with a bandoneón solo, becomes a classical orchestral version and ends with a touch of jazz including a 37 second wail on a high A by clarinetist Corrado Giuffredi. The bandoneón solo by Cesare Chiacchiaretta sounds like a traditional tango but Pedro-with-the-golden ears tells me it is Tocata Rea from Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires with perhaps a touch of Tristezas, Seperacion near the end. The orchestra is the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana on their 2010 opening night concert in Lugano. The video opens with a ten second lens cap problem but be patient, it is worth it.

Fourth, an Eastern European ethnic version posted from Russia. Such a conversion is not as uncommon as you might think, many a domra and balalaika have been strummed to the tune of Libertango. The group here is unnamed but very accomplished. One could easily imagine this is a traditional Russian folk dance tune right up to the totally delightful ending.

Fifth and final, a whimsical, jazzy version by the Japanese duo, TTCafe, performing for members of the Kobe ukulele club at a chapter meeting at the Kobe Fashion Museum. Do you think that Piazzolla could have imagined such a performance when he composed the piece?

With that, I will try to refrain from featuring Libertango for a few more days lest I be required to retitle the blog as "Libertango on Video."

If the videos do not appear below, click here for Esteban, here for the nightclub version, click here for the orchestral version, click here for the Eastern European version, and click here for the ukulele version.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Early Piazzolla - Opus 15

By 1953, Piazzolla had assigned opus numbers to nineteen of his works. This I learned from the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango. The same book indicates that Opus 8 was written in in 1947. Today's video features a performance of Contemplación y Danza which is Opus 15, probably written in 1951. Around that time, Piazzolla had completed his formal composition lessons with Alberto Ginastera and "retired" from the tango world. He was determined to make his mark as a composer in the classical music world. We know today that he succeeded but it was not the result of works such as Opus 15 - it was the result of his synthesis of the nuevo tango as guided by his second composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. As a result, his early works are rarely heard.

Today's video was my first exposure to Contemplación y Danza. It was composed for clarinet and string orchestra and the first section of it is performed here by Corrado Giuffredi on clarinet with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana(OSI) under the baton of Alexander Vedernikov. The notes accompanying the video and the informality of the musicians suggest this is a rehearsal but the performance is excellent. The orchestra has a full, smooth sound and Giuffredi's performance is controlled and nuanced - very fitting for the music. The piece reminds me of some of Ginastera's work but the contrasting second part of Contemplación y Danza, which unfortunately does not appear to exist on YouTube, hints strongly not of Ginastera, but of Stravinsky - one of Piazzolla's heros. You can hear that second part as played by the Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse on their CD, Piazzolla: Contemplación e Danza (or download just the missing second part at the same website). The performance from Toulouse is good although I think Vedernikov and the OSI have a richer interpretation of the piece.

Contemplación y Danza, along with several other Piazzolla works, was performed by the OSI on January 9 in Lugano. A video from that performance will be featured in this blog tomorrow and if we are lucky, a video of the full performance of Contemplación y Danza will appear in the future. You may also want to view a second piece from the rehearsal, Adios Nonino, which also features the clarinet of Corrado Giuffredi.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Syrinx, definition: a fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord; or, a fully customizable twitter client; or, a Greek nymph known for her chastity; or a Romanian pan pipe player whose real name is Simion Stanciu. The last three of these definitions are related and lead to today's video which features a performance of Bordel 1900 on the pan pipe.

According to Greek mythology, the nymph Syrinx escaped the clutches of the god Pan by running to the edge of the river and asking the river nymphs for help. The river nymphs responded by turning her into hollow river reeds. The frustrated Pan collected the reeds and tied them together into the instrument we know as a pan pipe. Simion Stanciu, one of the best pan pipe players in the world, adopted Syrinx as his stage name. As to the twitter client, their ads include a sketch of a pan pipe and the motto, "It's where the tweets come from."

Stanciu was born into a family of musicians in Romania and plays many instruments including violin, viola, piano, guitar and flute. But it is the pan pipe on which he is a virtuoso. He has played his pan pipe with groups as varied as Moody Blues and the London Philharmonic and as a soloist on some of his half dozen albums. You will note in today's video that he has astonishing breath control - the pan pipe is a simple instrument but the variety of his tonguing techniques, the control of sound volume and the subtle management of vibrato bring an amazing amount of emotion to the music.

Bordel 1900 is the first movement of Piazzolla's Histoire du tango which was originally composed as a duet for flute and guitar. In one sense, it is a small translation step to go from the transverse flute to the pan pipe but the physical difficulty of executing large interval jumps, and there a lot of these in Bordel, must make the piece quite a challenge on the pan pipe. Stanciu is accompanied in the video by Romanian guitarist, Razvan Grigorescu. If you enjoy this video, or want to see Stanciu in a larger format, there is also a YouTube video of Stanciu on pan pipe playing the second movement of the Histoire, Cafe 1930, with guitarist Leo Christophe. It's also excellent but, to my ear, not quite as accomplished as the featured video.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Two To Watch

If you haven't found time to watch any Piazzolla this year, the two videos featured today are a good place to start. All of the musicians in these videos have appeared in this blog before: Mario Parmisano as a pianist with Al Dimeola and Misha Rachlevsky with the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin in Russian Seasons. Parmisano is perhaps the leading jazz pianist in the Piazzolla world. Rachlevsky and Chamber Orchestra Kremlin are one of the leading chamber orchestras in the Piazzolla world. Somewhere in Moscow, perhaps in the Argentine embassy, lives a genius who had the idea of bringing the two together. The result was a December 10th concert at the Cultural Center of GlavUpDK in Moscow - highlights of which appear in today's two videos.

Both videos feature samples from the concert - sometimes just a few minutes of a piece, sometimes essentially the whole piece. Highlights for me included Parmisano and his trio playing Tango Suite No. 3 and the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin plus Parmisano playing Michelangelo 70, Chiquilin de bachin and Libertango. The arrangements are excellent although I would agree with those who say that some of the raw tango energy has been lost. That loss is more than made up in the beauty of the music.

If you live in the right part of the world, you will find a new recording, Remembering Astor, by Parmisano's trio and a Vivaldi/Piazzolla Four Seasons recording by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. Otherwise, you will have to be satisfied with these videos unless a CD or DVD from the concert is forthcoming - this fan certainly hopes that is the case.

If the videos do not appear below, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Libertango - A Bass Version

The International Society of Basses has 3,000 members and like their cousins, the tubas, they enjoy getting together to make music without those irritating treble instruments. One such recent gathering (November 7, 2009) was a bass festival in Bucharest, Romania where the final concert included a double bass orchestra version of Libertango.

The concert was dedicated to Professor Ion Cheptea on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Prof. Cheptea was a well know teacher of the double bass at National University of Music in Bucharest. One of Prof. Cheptea's former students, Daisuke Soga, arranged and conducted a thirty-three piece bass orchestra, most of the members former students of Prof. Cheptea, in the performance of Libertango. There are four soloists in the performance: Catalin Rotaru, Sandel Smarandescu, Petru Iuga, and Botond Kostyak. The arrangement is excellent. It is rhythmically interesting and avoids most of the cliches which tarnish so many such arrangements. Soga is to be congratulated - the piece deserves to be repeated at every bass festival in 2010.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

Monday, January 4, 2010

December Review of Piazzolla Videos

There were 481 videos of Piazzolla’s music posted on YouTube in the month of December, 2009. 349 (73%) of the videos were performance videos featuring live performances. The others were videos which used Piazzolla’s music as a sound track for photo or video montages. I highlighted my journey through these many videos in this blog.

Thirty-two percent of the performance videos were in the classical mode, 26% in Nuevo tango, 30% in pop and 12% in jazz.

Here are the most frequently performed pieces this month (Libertango was the most frequently played – 27% of the total; the others follow in order):

1. Libertango
2. Adios Nonino
3. Oblivion
4. Verano Porteño
5. Primavera Porteña
6. La Muerte del ángel
7. Invierno Porteño
8. Histoire du tango – Café 1930
9. Milonga del ángel
10. Balada para un Loco, Michelangelo 70, Tango Suite, Tango etudes (tie)

The top three on this list seem to be fairly stable month-to-month but the bottom seven change every month.

The performance videos came from 40 different countries. Argentina posted the most videos: 60. The top ten posting countries are listed in order here:

1. Argentina
2. Italy
3. USA
4. Spain
5. Brazil
6. Russia
7. Japan
8. Germany
9. France
10. Mexico

There were eighteen Piazzolla original performances posted. Only one of these was new to YouTube: Balada para mi muerte. In addition, the first complete video of Bandoneón from Suite Troiliana was posted. The others have been previously posted.

Quality of performance varied from excellent to bizarre. My choice for best of the month is the performance by Raúl Lavié and Piazzolla’s Quintet of Balada para mi muerte.

The choice for most bizarre this month is a video of a man sniffing a burning Piazzolla record while listening to Extasis.

I have put a table with links to all 481 videos as well as some more information on the videos on the December link in my Piazzolla on Video website.

Libertango - A Single Charango Version

Since we closed 2009 with a double charango version of Libertango, it seems appropriate to open 2010 with a single charango version of Libertango.

Some definite similarities between the two: hats, jazz and an unidentified musician with considerable instrumental expertise. The single charango is the traditional form of the instrument and I must admit that not much was added, musically, by the addition of 10 more strings in the double charango version.

If the video does bit appear below, click here.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.