Sunday, August 28, 2011

Una Nostalgia Pura - Magdalena León

What is the story behind Una nostalgia pura? Did Piazzolla really compose it or is at forgery? You won't find it on any list of Piazzolla compositions. I am hoping that Magdalena León who sings Una nostalgia pura in today's featured video knows the answer and will share it with us. All internet references to the song refer to Ms. León singing it - it is apparently exclusively hers.

My guess is that it is authentic. The lyricist is reported to be Eladia Blazquez, a good friend of Piazzolla and a very talented tango artist. The Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, reports that Ms. Blazquez was a frequent guest to the Piazzolla household, that she played impromptu piano/bandoneón duets with Piazzolla, played scrabble with Piazzolla and even went shark fishing with Piazzolla. She provided lyrics, approved by Piazzolla, for the instrumental works Adios Nonino and Invierno Porteno and collaborated with Piazzolla to create Siempre se vuelve a Buenos Aires. That same book reports that Piazzolla recruited Ms. Blazquez and Horacio Ferrer to provide lyrics for some hastily composed songs for a 1982 concert with Roberto "El Polaco" Goyeneche. Those songs were never used (you can hear the songs that were used on this recording) and I speculate that Una nostalgia pura was originally composed for Goyeneche to sing at that concert and went unsung until Ms. León somehow found the work.

Ms. León was born in Spain but moved to Buenos Aires at age twelve. She established a career as a singer of latin music, not just tango, and notably once sang with the Buenos Aires 8. She is perhaps better known today as a vocal coach, a music educator and author of the book, El Arte de Respirar. She remains a wonderful singer, as this video attests, and you can find Una nostalgia pura and seventeen other canciones on her CD, Entre Amigos - En Vivo.

I don't think Una nostalgia pura has the enduring qualities to become a significant Piazzolla work but I am grateful that Ms. León has rescued it from obscurity.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Note added 11 September, 2011: Ms. León responded to my request for more infomation about Una nostalgia pura with the following message as translated to me by her artistic manager, Daniele Morganti:

The song is from Eladia Blazquez and A. Piazzolla, and it's one of the last they composed together. It is not a famous song, and - so far I know - I am the only person who has recorded it. This song has a huge vocal range and that's the reason that makes it so difficult to perform "Una Nostalgia pura." Piazzolla never wrote easy music, but always beautiful.

I decided to perform this song while I was recording my album Magdagrafias. Eladia herself invited me to have a look at some of her songs, between them I found "Honrar la vida" and "Una nostalgia pura". I decided to record them in the same album, but the label Warner Music - which I worked with in those years - chose not to put "Una nostalgia pura" in that album - due to the high number of songs already there.

So, finally, "Una Nostalgia pura" was put in the next album, with the arrangement of the Maestro Roberto Lopez, my music director.

My thinking is that "Una Nostalgia Pura" is a sort of continuum of the thought exposed by Eladia Blazquez in the earlier song "Honrar la vida". She was a Galician and was very talented, a wonderful person who always bet on life.

Ms. León's comments about the vocal range demanded by the song suggest that I was wrong in my speculation about the song being written for Goyeneche. Goyeneche's vocal range had become limited at that stage of his career and Piazzolla would not have composed such a demanding song for him.

My thanks to Ms. León and to Daniele Morganti for providing this important additional information.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kicho - DeContraBando

Piazzolla's career is neatly book-ended by two bassists: Kicho Díaz and Héctor Console. He composed works to showcase the skills of both and today's featured video showcases the work titled Kicho in a minimalist performance by the duo DeContraBando comprised of Diego Zecharies on contrabass and Alejandro Szabo on bandoneón.

Enrique "Kicho" Díaz was probably there the night Piazzolla joined Anibal Troilo's band in December, 1939. He certainly was a member of Troilo's band during most of the five years that Piazzolla played with Troilo. When Piazzolla formed his first quintet in 1960, Kicho left Troilo's band to join Piazzolla. While other members of the quintet changed, Kicho was the only bassist the group ever had and he appears on every recording made by the first quintet from 1960 to 1973. He was the preeminent tango bassist of his time. The work, Kicho, came relatively late in the history of the first quintet and was recorded only once, on the 1970 live recording, Piazzolla en el Regina.

Kicho was composed for quintet and it is not possible for the bandoneón/contrabass duo of Szabo and Zecharies to capture all of the nuances of the piece but Szabo has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the missing three members of the quintet. On the bass, Zecharies' phrasing and intonation is superb and he brings more musicality to Kicho than Kicho did himself in the live recording at the Regina. Zecharies was born in Uruguay and currently lives in Spain. He is a classical contrabassist but no stranger to Piazzolla's music. With Hugo and Juan Lucas Aisemberg, he recorded TRioPlatense: Vayamos al Diablo. His YouTube performances of Le Grand Tango and Contrabajeando (also composed for Kicho Diaz) are excellent. Szabo, the bandoneónist, was born in Buenos Aires but currently also lives in Spain. The breadth of his skills are perhaps better seen in this DeContraBando demo video. Szabo has also done some excellent work as a duo with guitarist, Gabriel Silvera.

To return to the book-end image, just as Kicho was there for the first part of Piazzolla's career, Héctor Console was there for the last. He joined Piazzolla in 1979 with the second quintet and was there for Piazzolla's final ensemble recording, Live at the BBC, in 1989. The two bassists covered the most important twenty years of Piazzolla's performance career and together, appear on almost 80% of those Piazzolla recordings which included a contrabass player. There were remarkably few bassists in Piazzolla's recording career. According to Mitsumasa Saito's excellent discography, the other bassists include Valentin Andreotta (from Piazzolla's orquesta tipica), Hamlett Greco and Juan Vasallo (from the octet), Chet Amsterdam and George Duvivier (from NYC studio recordings), Giuseppe Prestopino (from studio recordings with Gerry Mulligan), Andy Gonzalez (from Pablo Zinger's Tango Apasionado ensemble) and Angel Ridolfi (who subbed for Console with the Sextet for the Lausanne concert recording).

Diego Zecharies would have been a worthy addition to that list.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Revolucionario - A Piazzolla Original

I missed this video when it first appeared on YouTube in April of this year but alert blog reader, Gabriel Caprav, noticed that I missed it and brought it to my attention today. It is an important video - perhaps the earliest video of Piazzolla's first quintet and they are playing what must have been at the time, one of the more controversial of Piazzolla's works: Revolucionario.

The video appears to be from Argentine television and Gabriel speculates it is footage from one of the Quintet's appearances on Tato Bores' show in the mid- to late 1960's. That would correspond roughly with the studio recording of the work in 1967 on the rare Polydor 10092, 33 rpm record which you can hear here. Members of the quintet on that recording were Piazzolla on bandoneón, Osvaldo Manzi on piano, Antonio Agri on violin, Kicho Díaz on contrabass and Oscar López Ruiz on guitar. I believe the musicians in the video are the same although I am not sure that is López Ruiz on guitar. Perhaps a more knowledgeable reader can confirm identities. The piece was recorded a second time by the First Quintet in the live performance recording, Piazzolla en el Regina.

For an Argentine tango fan of the period, Revolucionario, must have been difficult to comprehend and the title suggests that was, perhaps, the intent. It is contrapuntal and modal and it is easier to find Stravinsky than De Caro in the work. Interestingly, Piazzolla apparently never featured the work with his second quintet - perhaps because its ties to tango were too tenuous.

My thanks to Gabriel for bringing this video to my attention. In return, may I suggest you give some of your attention to one of Gabriel's creations - you may recognize the music.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Invierno Porteño - Nuevo Tango Quintet TM

It is only 63.4 km from Sânnicolau Mare to Timișoara. Sânnicolau Mare is the birthplace of Béla Bartók, whose portrait hung above Piazzolla's bed and who was in many ways a guiding musical presence for Piazzolla. Timișoara is the birthplace of the Nuevo Tango Quintet TM, a remarkable new, Romanian tango ensemble for which Piazzolla is clearly a guiding musical presence. Rarely have I heard a new quintet capture the spirit of Piazzolla's music as well as the Nuevo Tango Quintet TM and that they can do so without so much as a visit to Buenos Aires or a bandoneón player suggests some mystical Bartókian connection has been formed between this quintet and Piazzolla's music. As an example of their work, today's video highlights their performance of Invierno Porteño. I could have chosen any of the other eight Piazzolla works which have been posted on Alin Stoianovici's YouTube channel - they are all well performed.

Piazzolla chose the musicians for his quintets from the classical world, from the jazz world and from the world of the popular tango music of Buenos Aires. The important thing was not their training but rather that they could feel and "swing," in a canyengue sense, the music. Similarly the musicians of the Nuevo Tango Quintet come from varied backgrounds. Pianist, Roxana-Yvonne Coşereanu, and violinist, Sascha Bota, are from the classical world. Guitarist, Ionuţ Dorobanţu, and contrabassist, Johnny Bota, are from the jazz world. And accordionist, Alin Stoianovici, comes from the pop music world having played previously with such groups as Anca Pop and Neurotica. The group came together for a onetime Anivertango performance in celebration of the 90th anniversary of Piazzolla's birth. That concert was held on March 9, 2011 at the Operei Romane din Timisoara and the featured video comes from that concert. Considering that the musicians have quite possibly never even heard the word, canyengue, they are well on their way to capturing it.

It is clear that these musicians have listened carefully to Piazzolla and are working from something close to original quintet scores. They are striving for authenticity in their sound. And, in their tempo, dynamics and phrasing they have succeeded remarkably well; but, they have work remaining to do. Most of the work needs to be done by Stoianovici who either strays from the score or needs to do some transcription work to improve the score and get closer to the Piazzolla original. A particularly egregious example of straying can be found at 5'30" into the video where Stoianovici plays a very un-Piazzolla-like chromatic run. It doesn't sound bad, but it is not Piazzolla. Purists will also note that the accordion is no substitute for a bandoneón but realists will point out that finding a bandoneónist in Timișoara is about as likely as finding a Cobza player in Buenos Aires. While still quite new as an ensemble, this group has the potential to become one of the best Piazzolla-style quintets in Europe. Let's hope they stay together long enough to record and tour and maybe Alin Stoianovici will even take up the bandoneón in the future.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Adios Nonino - Conjunto 9

A rare treat today - a new (to YouTube, anyway) video of a 1972, original Piazzolla performance of Adios Nonino. The performance is by Piazzolla's Conjunto 9, also know as the Nonet, playing at the Teatro Colon. The arrangement of the piece is one of Piazzolla's most interesting - starting with a violin solo by Antonio Agri backed by the quiet guitar of Oscar López Ruiz, then a cello solo by José Bragato (backed by Lopez-Ruiz), then a lengthy and wonderful solo by López Ruiz. Finally at roughly the four minute mark, drummer José Corriale loudly announces his presence and Piazzolla's bandoneón is finally heard. The next three minutes are full of Sturm und Drang as Piazzolla takes full advantage of the complex musical capability of nine part music. Then at a little over seven minutes, calm returns with a beautiful bandoneón solo - Piazzolla at his very best. I believe it is this solo which inspired the arrangement of Adio Nonino that Carel Kraayenhof made famous at the wedding of Prince Willem Alexander and Maxima Zorreguieta. The solo is followed by a moving duet with Bragato and a fittingly full conclusion. In my view, this video is a treasure. The quiet, beautiful parts more than make up for the bombast which Piazzolla, himself, seems to suggest are "too much" in the interview.

The video is actually a video within a video. Piazzolla is viewing the 1972 video as part of an interview by "Pinky" in what is probably an early 1980's television broadcast. "Pinky" is well known in Argentina but the rest of us will be interested to know that "Pinky" is actually Lidia Elsa Satragno. Once known as Ms. Television because of her ubiquitous presence on television in roles ranging from actress, to news anchor, to variety show host. She reportedly has spent 34,000 hours in front of TV cameras - enough to put her in the Guiness book of records. Later she entered politics and was elected a member of the Cámara de Diputados, the lower house of the Argentine Congress, where she continues to serve today as the oldest member of that body. Interestingly, Ms. Satragno was married to Raúl Lavié during the period in which he was a vocalist for Piazzolla. Further, it has been reported that Ms. Satragno has an original score of Adios Nonino framed and hung on the wall of her house. "Pinky" is not just an interviewer in the video - she was a friend and is an admirer of Piazzolla.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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