Thursday, June 28, 2012

Paula Cautiva

In its time, Paula Cautiva was an important movie.  In 1963, when it was released it made appearances at film festivals in both London and San Francisco and brought some recognition to its young director, Hector Olivera. It tells the story of some wealthy Americans arriving in Argentina to do a business deal.  They are hosted by the young and beautiful Paula Cautiva on her aging grandfather's ranch. The movie provides opportunities to see both Buenos Aires of the 60's and the pampas sections of Argentina.  The ending is a bit strange but it is not a bad movie. Piazzolla wrote the score for the movie and has a cameo appearance in it which is featured in one of the two videos below.

The IMDb lists 86 titles containing music Piazzolla composed. Eliminating documentaries and shorts, there are still more than fifty full length movies for which Piazzolla was hired to compose scores.  Some produced famous pieces - for exmple, Oblivion, Piazzolla's second most often performed work came from the movie, Enrico IV.  Most, however, contain music which future scholars will eventually extract to build a full picture of Piazzolla's oeuvre but until that day, the music will go largely unheard. There is much music in Paula Cautiva and you can hear it all and see the full movie here. My guess is that our future scholars will find four pieces of music worthy of attention - one of these is already famous, Revirado, one should be famous, the cancion, Paula Cautiva.  Two others in the hands of imaginative arrangers could become nice performance works for Piazzolla-type quintets.

In the latter two, I include the opening theme of the movie which runs about 1'45" under the opening credits.  You can hear it here.  The second, is just a minute of music which plays under a quick tour of Buenos Aires which you can hear here.  There are other fragments of interesting music including some very un-Piazzolla-like dance numbers. The Film Compilation page indicates that some of the jazz in the film was selected by Piazzolla rather than composed by Piazzolla but apparently all the rest is his.

The first featured video below captures Piazzolla playing Revirado in a nightclub. You can hear other members of his quintet but they are not visible.  I believe that Revirado was composed for the film but it was also included in one of the Quintet's early albums, Tango para una ciudad, and was captured in a 1963 television broadcast of the full quintet - featured in an early edition of this blog. Interestingly, Piazzolla resurrected the piece twenty years later and included it in live performance recordings at Vienna and Lugano and Milan.

The second featured video below covers a lovely cancion, Paula Cautiva, sung by the star of the film,  Susana Freyre. While the lyricist is not identified in the film, a little work in the SADAIC database suggests that the lyricist was the poet (and Piazzolla friend) Albino Alberto Gómez. To my knowledge, this piece has never been recorded or performed outside of this film.  That should change - this piece deserves exposure to a broader public.

If Revirado does not appear below, click here.  If Paula Cautiva does not appear below, click here.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adios Nonino - Wu Lung-Yung

Now I understand. Today's featured video of Wu Lung-Yung (he also goes by the name, Mark Wu) playing Nestor Marconi's solo bandoneón arrangement of Adios Nonino helps explain why Mr. Wu won the contest at Klingenthal rather than Mr. Hayakawa (featured in this blog last month).

Since I began writing this blog I have "met" many musicians whose musical lives have been changed after discovering the music of Astor Piazzolla but few have pursued the music as aggressively as Mr. Wu. During his senior year as a flute student at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan he was introduced to the music of Piazzolla. Within a year of his graduation, the flute was back in its case and Mark Wu was on his way to Argentina to learn to play the bandoneón. He somehow managed to arrange to study with one of the most respected bandoneón players in the world, Walter Ríos.  He continued studies on his own when he returned to Taiwan, supplemented by lessons via Skype with Mr. Ríos. To progress from never having touched a bandoneón to the performer we see in today's video in less than five years seems hardly possible. His technique is flawless but more impressive is his phrasing, his ornamentation and the emotion he brings to the music.  He sounds like an Argentine master who grew up with the instrument. The four videos of his contest performances, which you can see here, are admittedly a small sample but they do suggest that he is among the best bandoneónist in the world and was a deserving winner at Klingenthal.

Wu's win at Kingenthal was reported in the Taiwan press but most citizens of Taiwan probably found out about his win from his appearance on the popular Saturday night CTV program,  你猜你猜你猜猜猜, which translates roughly as "You guess, you guess, you guess guess guess."  You can see the show here: part one and part two. Without language capability, the show will remain a mystery to me but at least Wu is getting his ten minutes of fame although he does, at times, appear a bit uncomfortable with the animated people surrounding him. At the end of part 2, you get to see a little more of the "real" Mark Wu including a photo of Wu with Walter Ríos at the 5'20" point of video. You can also see Wu playing with the ensemble, Mr. Tango Quartet, in videos here.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Concierto Para Quinteto - Camarada

It should be a crime for dancers to appear on stage while a quintet is performing Concierto para quinteto. If Piazzolla had been in the audience watching Camarada during the performance in today's featured video, he would have stopped the music and told the dancers to sit down and listen to the music. Haydn would have done the same thing if dancers appeared on the stage during the performance of his string quartets. Fortunately the dancers appear in only four of the nine videos posted by Camarada from their April 29, 2012 performance at the Neuroscience Institute in La Jolla, California and the music is good enough to forgive Camarada for including them on stage.

Camarada appears to be a bit of a collective chamber ensemble, their website lists twenty different musicians associated with the organization.   Beth Ross-Buckley is a founder and the driving force behind Camarada - she is the flutist in the quintet in today's video. Other members of the quintet are David Buckley on violin, Dana Burnett on piano,  Fred Benedetti on guitar and Jeff Pekarek on double bass.  They are all fine musicians but I am particularly drawn to the tone and sensitivity shown by violinist Buckley - watch his performance of Tanti Anni (and ignore, please, the dancers). It is hard to believe this guy has a day job as a radiologist. But the performance I found most interesting was that of bassist, Jeff Pekarek, in Kicho. He is evidently not deeply familiar with the work - notice how intently he follows the music, carefully sight reading - and yet his playing is nuanced and fluid, a performance that even Kicho would have enjoyed. I would really like to hear what he can do once he has internalized the music.

So why feature Concierto para quinteto if I like Kicho and Tanti Anni so much?  Because it better shows Camarada to be a smooth, well integrated, and self-aware ensemble - not just a collection of skilled musicians. Because it provides an opportunity to give an arranger a well deserved word of praise. And because the dancers made me realize that the section of the piece from approximately 2'50" to 4'05" could be viewed as a Zwiefacher.

I have been unable to find credit given to the arrangements played by Camarada but someone has done a very nice job - perhaps Mrs. Ross-Buckley. They all show the work of someone who is intimately familiar with and fond of Piazzolla's music. The only commercial arrangement of Concierto para quinteto of which I am aware is the one written for Piazzolla's quintet itself.  To take that arrangement which relies heavily on Piazzolla's bandoneon and replace the bandoneon with a flute is a challenge few would undertake.  But it is well done here - the bandoneon voice is not assigned to the flute but rather is shared between flute and guitar and possibly with the violin and piano on occasion.  But it is done in a way that is respectful of the original.  Inevitably there are things lost, for example there are some missing parts in the counterpoint section at the end, but to a listener unfamiliar with the original, the work stands entirely on its own as a fully developed piece of music.  The same comments apply to all of the quintet pieces - a difficult arranging job very well done!

And finally, what does a Bavarian folk dance like the Zwiefacher have to do with Piazzolla? Listen carefully to that section that starts at 2'50" into the video. It sounds like two measures of a waltz followed by one measure of a polka, over and over.  That is what Zwiefachers are: measures of waltz interspersed by measures of polka. I have listened to the work many times but never heard the Zwiefacher until I noticed at one point in the video, the male dancer's footwork starts down a waltz pattern. Now I can't get it out of my brain. For those who read music, you can follow the score of Concierto para quinteto in a string quintet arrangement in this video and see the structure quite clearly - it starts in measure 80. Piazzolla has basically placed a rest at the standard 3-3-2 accent points and scored eighth notes where the rests would normally be.  The result is an om-pa pa, om-pa-pa, pi-vot feel that the Bavarians could dance to as a Zwiefacher. In the Piazzolla original, the tempo is slowed by a factor of two for that section so the waltz beat is at the same pace as the previous true 4/4 beat. It is a clever compositional strategy which keeps the overall pulse intact but dramatically changes the feel of the piece.

Are there other Zwiefachers buried in Piazzolla's music?  I don't think so but I will let you know if I find one. If the video does not appear below, click here.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tanguísimo - Leoncio

The featured video today is a three violin, multi-tracked recording of Tanguísimo. Miguel Angel García Leoncio arranged the work and plays all three parts. Leoncio is a Professor of Music at the Escuela Municipal de Música in Fuenlabrada, Spain - a suburb of Madrid. He clearly has computer skills in addition to his violin performance skills - it is not easy to make such a perfect recording. Leoncio dedicates the work to a friend, Julián Núñez Olías, who happens to be one of the best bandurria players in the world in addition to being a composer, arranger and a captain of industry in Spain.  You can see the two friends in a virtual duet with piano accompaniment here.

Leoncio's arrangement of Tanguísimo is a little gem and deserves to be discovered. But Leoncio's Tanguísimo is a ruby to Piazzolla's diamond.  The basic eight bar theme of Tanguísimo is so compelling that many have arranged it and none have done more damage than the unknown arranger who put it in a Hal Leonard book of Piazzolla arranged for violin and guitar - creating a cubic zirconia.  Many performances are derived from this arrangement including, I believe, that of Leoncio although there are hints that he may have listened to the original.  He has created a wonderfully baroque feeling in the piece and has worked some variation into the repeated sections which converts the cubic zirconia to ruby.

Piazzolla recorded the work only once.  It was with his first quintet in 1961 on the album Piazzolla interpreta a Piazzolla. If you are fortunate to have Spotify available where you live, you may find it there - I did. Much of that album is chamber music slightly disguised as nuevo tango.  The original score probably exists but I have never seen it so my limited understanding of the structure comes only from listening. The composition is as clever as one created by Mozart and worthy of study by serious musicians. It is fundamentally a classically structured theme and variation.  The theme is stated in the first eight bars - call it theme A.  Three variations on that theme follow with hints of a second theme, B.  That theme B then takes over for the two sections but theme A continues quietly in the background. Then a return to A for two more variations followed by a third variation which runs a full ten measures, rather than eight as do all other sections, and flows into masterful coda fading to a cadence-less nothing.  A diagram might look like this: AA2A3A4BB2A5A6A7coda. The rhythmic and harmonic complexity, which grows with every variation, begs for analysis which is beyond my ability.

So, you might ask, if this is such a clever composition why isn't it well known and played by the best musicians.  I suspect it is because it lacks the emotive thread of Piazzolla's best work.  It is musician's music not listener's music. Almost a compositional stunt.  Perhaps it is appropriate that the theme is what has survived for listeners and Leoncio has polished the theme just enough to keep it interesting.  He has certainly done more with it than previous arrangers.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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