Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fugata - Vanessa-Mae

There has always been more to music than what is shown on a score. This becomes quite evident when you compare Fugata, for example, as played by Piazzolla's quintet and by a classical string quintet. They may actually all play the same notes with the same timing but the timbre differences in the instruments leads to quite a different sound at ear level. Today's video illustrates an interesting hybrid of the classical and Piazzolla-style quintet playing Fugata. The leader of the effort, Vanessa-Mae, even alerts the audience to the "quite unusual instruments" - which turn out to be a midi keyboard, an electric guitar and a pair of percussionists who join Vanessa-Mae's violin, a piano and a contrabass. With the midi keyboard set to GM1 patch 24, tango accordion, the group has approximated a bandoneón and is poised to give the audience an almost authentic Piazzolla quintet experience.

And how did it come out? About half-baked, I would say. The electric guitar is nearly perfect - very well played. The guitarist has clearly listened to Oscar López Ruiz or Horacio Malvicino play the work. Piazzolla wrote a full voice for the electric guitar in most of his works and the classical world makes a significant error in not including an appropriate instrument to cover the part. Ms. Mae gains points by including it. The midi keyboard is less successful - no attempt is made to use the keyboard's aftertouch capability to emulate the bandoneón's sound envelope. The three traditional musicians - violin, piano and contrabass do well. The percussion is an unfortunate addition. It is not needed and is a distraction from the music. My mind keeps wondering which of Piazzolla's quintet should play the finger cymbals. It would have been so easy for Ms. Mae to hire a bandoneónist for the performance and give the percussionists the night off. Then the classical-leaning audience would not only have seen "unusual instruments" but also have heard an authentic quintet timbre.

It is not out of character for Vanessa-Mae to challenge the envelop a bit. She is the product of a tiger mom and was a child prodigy in the classical world who rebelled at age eighteen. She became estranged from her mother, played violin with Janet Jackson, recorded jazz fusion and dressed and undressed like a bimbo. And, made a lot of money in the process. She seems to delight in politely poking a finger in the eye of the classical world that nurtured her. If internet reports are to be believed, she is currently in training to join the Thai downhill ski team for the next winter Olympics instead of playing the violin. So much for Brahms and Paganini.

Classical musicians respect Fugata. It starts with a well constructed fugue and carries the theme from that fugue in a smooth and unexpected way to a surrealistic cityscape ending that could have been written by Stravinski. Piazzolla composed the work in 1969 and recorded it twice. First on the famous 1969, Trova label, Adios Nonino, and second, twenty years later, on the almost as famous Kip Hanrahan produced recording, La Camorra. Piazzolla modified the ending for the Hanrahan version but otherwise it is unchanged. Ms. Mae chose to perform the original 1969 version.

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