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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