Friday, October 14, 2011

Le Grand Tango - Swing Sling Brass

I would not think it easy to rearrange a work composed for cello and piano to a work played on two trombones, three trumpets, a french horn and a tuba but the Swedish trombonist and musical wizard, Lars Karlin, has done just that. Proof awaits in today's video of Swing Sling Brass playing Le Grand Tango.

Le Grand Tango is serious music. It was composed specifically for famed cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich - you can read background on the work and hear him play it here. On the surface, Swing Sling Brass are not serious musicians. They are entertainers and are more known for their on-stage hi-jinks, many of which you can enjoy in this video, than they are for concert grade music. However, as today's video shows they are very talented musicians and fully capable of addressing complex and technically challenging music. There are rough edges in the performance but the excitement and energy that are embedded in the score are delivered better in this performance than in just about any other I have heard.

There are other arrangements of Le Grand Tango. There is a good woodwind quintet arrangement and many musicians have moved the cello part to other instruments such as violin, viola. bassoon and even flute. The arrangements are safe and careful. Lars Karlin has exploded the work and reconstructed it for brass. Performances of the original often interpret it as a cello solo accompanied by piano - it is not that. It is a duet. The piano part is important and plays a role equal to that of the cello. Karlin has recognized this and captured both voices in a very sculptural manner. The trombone usually takes the main cello line - but not always. Trumpets usually cover the treble of the piano - but not always. The overall structure is true to the original with the exception of a trombone cadenza at approximately 6'40" into the video. Since there is no live video, I can't be sure, but I think the cadenza is played by Geir Anfinsen while the rest of the septet vamps behind the solo. In a little less than a minute, the group returns to the score. It is an interesting break - no harm was done. I am in awe of the quality of the arrangement. Libertango is a staple for brass ensembles but there is so much more Piazzolla which would be stunning on brass. I can hardly wait to hear what Mr. Karlin does with the rest of the Piazzolla catalog and I hope that Swing Sling Brass brings his arrangements to us sooner rather than later.

I encourage you to visit the Swing Sling Brass Music page. There is wonderful music there and you can appreciate their musical skills without the smiles interfering with your hearing. The performance of Le Grand Tango on that page is, I believe, different than the one in the video and is a little more polished but with no loss of excitement.

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