Friday, May 18, 2012

Twenty Years After - Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble

Today's featured video of Twenty years after performed by the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble is not authentic Piazzolla.   But, it is wonderful Piazzolla.

Twenty years after was composed in 1974 for an album conceived by Aldo Pagani for two musicians he happened to represent in Italy: Astor Piazzolla and Gerry Mulligan. The story of the recording of the album, Summit (Reunion Cumbre), is wonderfully told in the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango.  It was a rocky start - Piazzolla was disappointed in Mulligan's ability to read music and Mulligan was flummoxed by the lack of chordal structure in Piazzolla's compositions. But the result was a commercially, if not critically, successful album and Mulligan met his future wife, a photographer friend of Piazzolla, in the course of the recording. There is some good music on the CD but Mulligan's talents are misused in most of it - including the piece, Twenty years after.  It is a work that I have dismissed as a Piazzolla mistake - until today's video.

Some astonishingly talented arranger could hear that Twenty years after was not a mistake. Could hear that underneath that hyperactive drummer and inside the uninspired playing in the recording existed the bones of a fantastic work of classical music.  The arranger could be someone in the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble, a twelve member string group headquartered in Vilnius, Lithuania. Perhaps even Lionius Treikauskas, cellist and leader of the ensemble who includes composition amongst his talents. Some compositional freedom was taken with the first half of the piece - the motifs are there but both harmonic and rhythmic changes make the opening much more like something Piazzolla would write for the Kronos Quartet than for Gerry Mulligan. It is much more coherent than Piazzolla's original and the arranger has wisely chosen to ignore Mulligan's improvisations. The piece follows a familiar Piazzolla pattern - a fast, disjunctive, minor, descending theme section, followed by a slow, lyrical, major ascending theme section, and concluding with a synthesis of the two to bring the work to resolution at the end. The latter half of the arrangement follows Piazzolla's work quite closely. The more I listen to the Intermezzo Ensemble version, the more links I find to the Piazzolla original.  This is truly masterful arranging and the result is an extremely satisfying chamber orchestra work which should find its way into the repertoire of other chamber orchestras.  In fact, I think there is room to expand this into a full orchestral version to good effect.

If I were not so taken by the arranging work, I would be commenting on the skills of the Intermezzo Chamber Ensemble.  They are a disciplined, well rehearsed unit and much of the pleasure of the performance is the result of their skills.  Bravo!

This is the best Piazzolla performance posted on YouTube so far in 2012 - it may just turn out to be the best of the year.  If the video does not appear below, click here.



Note added 22 May, 2012: A private communication from Lionius Treikauskas confirms that he is indeed the arranger of the piece.  The performance was in February, 2011 at the home of the Lithuanian National Philharmonic.  The performance was broadcast by Lithuanian national television.

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