Friday, September 28, 2012

Chant et Fugue - Trio Kardia

Faust's deal with Mephistopheles was for ten years, Piazzolla's deal with Aldo Pagani was for six. One result of Piazzolla's deal was the 1977 work, Chant et Fugue, a truncated version of which is our featured video today. The video captures a September 20th performance at the Casa Classica (just a five minute walk from Akasaka-Mitsuke station) by the Japanese group, Trio Kardia: Manami on flute, Saori on violin and Ayumi on piano.

Pagani played a significant initial role in Piazzolla's success in Europe. He was an agent/promoter for a number of noted musicians in Italy and offered Piazzolla a contract with a steady income and an apartment in Rome in exchange for certain rights to the music he created.  Many have suggested it was a Faustian bargain and, in a sense, it was.  Piazzolla and Pagani maintained the contractual relationship for six years and during that time, Piazzolla lived comfortably and benefited from Pagani's many contacts in the European music world which helped establish his fame on that continent.  Pagani gained a long term revenue stream from the music Piazzolla produced - roughly 30% of his recorded output comes from those six years.  The royalties from Libertango, a product of that period and a composition performed by more artists than perhaps any other composition of the twentieth century, alone must have made Pagani a wealthy man. Pagani has issued and reissued the recordings Piazzolla made during that period and is the single source of many of the scores performed today.  I have heard that he maintains a collection of Piazzolla's manuscripts from the period in a vault somewhere in Rome.  He continues to be an active promoter of Piazzolla's music.

Chant et Fugue appeared on the Persecuta album and you can hear the original here on YouTube.  It is performed by Piazzolla and nine Italian studio musicians hired by Pigani for the recording.  It is a very rarely heard Piazzolla composition. The original work is roughly 6'40" long with the "Chant" lasting four minutes and the "Fugue" the remaining time.  The two sections are in different keys, musically unrelated and separated by a mechanical silence. It would not surprise me to learn that Pigani created an assemblage of two unrelated pieces to fill-up the available time on the LP.  Without access to the original score, we may never know.

And where did Trio Kardia get their score?  I am only guessing but here is what I think happened.  Someone in the trio has enjoyed watching the Lombard twins dance to Chant et Fugue on YouTube - watch it here, you will enjoy it, too. Note that the Lombard twins use only the last 28 seconds of the Chant and do all of their dancing to the Fugue.  It is surely no accident that Trio Kardia starts with exactly the same 28 seconds of the Chant and play all of the Fugue.  Someone in the Trio has transcribed and arranged the truncated version of Chant et Fugue they enjoyed in the Lombard twin video.  My guess is that the violinist, Saori, did the transcription.  After all, if you are going to go to all of the trouble to transcribe the work, you might as well give yourself the lead part in the fugue.  Whether the arranger was Ms.Saori or someone else, they did a very nice job. It is not really possible to replace ten musicians with three but some good decisions were made on which parts to leave out and which to leave in.  The music stands as a whole and the Trio plays it very well.  I wonder if the audience at the Casa Classica recognized the uniqueness of the musical treat they received that evening - it was almost certainly the premiere of the work as performed by a trio.  Maybe someday Trio Kardia will bring us the first three and a half minutes of the Chant - I'll be watching for it.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prelude, Fugue and Divertimento

 In late 1971, Piazzolla expanded his Quintet to nine musicians, a group known as the Conjunto 9 or the Nonet, by the addition of a second violin, a viola, a cello and a percussionist to the existing bandoneón, electric guitar, violin, piano and contrabass. While the Conunto 9 played many arrangements of familiar Quintet tunes, Piazzolla composed a number of works uniquely for the ensemble. One of the rarer of those works is presented in today's series of videos. The work has no formal title (the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, refers to it as "the 9's") and consists of three movements: Prelude, Fugue and Divertimento. The performance is by Orquestra Filarmonica Jovem de Piracicaba under conductor and musical director Anderson Oliveira with guest soloists Eric Lawson on violin, Pedro Huff on cello, and João Paulo Casarotti on piano. The performance, the Brazilian premiere of the work, was at the concert, Casarotti Convida, at the Piracicaba Municipal Theater on 10 August, 2012. The concert was a fund raising event for the school Passo a Passo, a school for children with disabilities in the city of Piracicaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil. The musicians were all volunteers.

Piazzolla recorded the full work only once, on the recording Música Popular Contemporánea de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Vol. 2, although he did later record the Prelude and Divertimento without the Fugue suggesting that he may have considered the three as separate works.  José Bragato, the cellist in the Conjunto 9, arranged "the 9's" for piano and chamber orchestra. This was not unusual. Bragato's musical taste and instincts were totally trusted by Piazzolla and he frequently made "classical" arrangements of Piazzolla's Quintet music (and, I have heard, converted many of Piazzolla's quickly drafted scores into readable form for the Quintet). His arrangements, even today, provide the basis for most of the "classical" music performances of Piazzolla we hear.  It is probable that his arrangement of  "the 9's" was performed in Buenos Aires but it was apparently never published and really got its only broad exposure through Gidon Kremer's Kremerata Baltica recording, Tango Ballet. The performance in today's video uses virtually the same Bragato arrangement although there are some subtle scoring differences and some not-so-subtle interpretive differences.

Since they use the same arrangement it is tempting to compare the Filamonica Jovem version to the Kremerata Baltica version, but such a comparison would be unfair.  The Kremerata Baltica version shows the perfection of studio recording while the Filamonica Jovem version comes from a handheld video camera with limited sound capability.  The sound is good enough to show that the soloists do an excellent job and that the interpretation is less lush than Kremer's although probably closer to Bragato's intent. The Jovem ensemble shows less precision than Kremer's ensemble but few can match Kremer on that count. The Orquestra Filarmonica Jovem de Piracicaba performance is internally consistant and a totally valid reading of Bragato's arrangement.  I believe that pianist, João Paulo Casarotti, who is Coordinator of Piano Studies at the Southern University-Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a DMA candidate in Piano Performance at LSU is largely responsible for bringing this work back into public view and for that, I thank him.

A more interesting comparison exists between Piazzolla's original Conjunto 9's version and the Bragato arrangement. While a copy of the Conjunto 9's recording makes it possible to compare all three movements, a video recording of the Conjunto 9 playing the Divertimento which I have included below, will allow you to make a comparison of that single movement within the confines of this blog. The differences are greater than I would have expected. Admittedly, removing an electric guitar and a bandoneón from the original creates a bit of a musical hole which Bragato usually fills with the violin, but it is not the simple replacement that creates the large differences it is, rather, the music that Bragato has chosen to leave out. There are more musicians in the orchestral score but the music is simpler. Many of the character lines have been erased. As enjoyable as the Bragato version is, I believe he has "left music on the table" and that the work deserves a new and better "classical" arrangement.  The same is true of many Piazzolla works. The beauty and excitement of the music from the Quintet and the Nonet and the Sextet and the Octet are too often "left on the table." Even the best, Bragato, did it.

If the videos do not appear below click here for the Prelude, here for the Fugue, here for the Divertimento and here for the Conjunto 9's version of Divertimento.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

El Gordo Triste - Mundial de Baile 2012

Tango Festival y Mundial de Baile 2012 - Buenos Aires was the official title of the event and it is appropriate - winning the dance (baile) contest at this event is the tango dancer equivalent of winning football's World Cup. This year's winners, Cristian Sosa and María Noel Sciuto, will travel broadly this year and be recognized and rewarded as the best tango dancers in the world. Some, but not all, will recognize the significance of the music to which they danced to win the finals.  That music, featured at the very end of today's featured video, is a 1972 recording of Piazzolla's El Gordo Triste performed by Piazzolla's Quintet with vocalist, Roberto Goyeneche.

The Tango Festival was dedicated this year to Astor Piazzolla in honor of the twentieth anniversary of his death so it was fitting that the last dance was to a Piazzolla melody, no accident I am sure. They could not have chosen a better song - it honors not only Piazzolla but also three other giants of the tango world: Anibal Troilo, Horacio Ferrer and Roberto Goyeneche.  Troilo was a mentor and great friend of Piazzolla. A bandoneónist and composer himself, he gave Piazzolla his first job as a bandoneónist in a "big time" orquesta tipica and Piazzolla soon became the arranger of the music for the group. El Gordo Triste was not, as some people believe, composed to honor Troilo after his death - it was composed in 1970 some five years before Troilo's death - and was meant to be a living tribute to the man nicknamed "El Gordo."  The lyrics were composed by Horacio Ferrer and are less mystical than most, conveying some sense of Troilo's character. The singer, Goyeneche, was also a friend of Troilo and recorded some 26 records with Troilo's orchestra - it is no wonder his gravelly voice sings the work with true feelings. El Gordo Triste was first recorded by Amelita Baltar and an orchestra led by Piazzolla in 1972 but not released until 1976 on the difficult to find RCA recording, El Gordo Tristi, although a re-release can be heard on the CD, Piazzolla and Amelita Baltar. But it is the recording by Goyeneche that made the song famous. The Goyeneche version used in the Tango Festival performance was recorded live in May of 1982 at the Teatro Regina in Buenos Aires and is available in the CD, Piazzolla - Goyeneche en Vivo. Goyeneche and Piazzolla's Quintet appeared together at the Regina for nearly two weeks. According the the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, Piazzolla composed many new songs for the concerts but as a courtesy to Goyeneche, whose health was failing, ultimately performed a concert of traditional tangos familiar to Goyeneche. It is one of the few times that Piazzolla included traditional tangos composed by others in a concert.

The video below is long and includes some wonderful traditional tango dancing as well as a performance by Piazzolla Electronico of Otoño porteño (at 24' 00" in the video) and an appearance by tango dancer legend, Maria Nieves. If you want to jump directly to the final dance performance to the music of El Gordo Triste, you can click here.

Again, if  you only want to watch the final dance performance to the music of El Gordo Triste, you can click here.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Libertango - the Graller Version

The collection of videos of Libertango played on unusual instruments expands today with a video of the group Els Carreter performing on a set of gralles accompanied by a timbal (snare drum). The gralla is one of several Catalan versions of the ancient shawm. Shawms are usually associated with the Renaissance period but predate that period and have their roots probably in the middle East. Many European cultures have had shawm derivatives in their folk music history but only in Spain have the instruments continued to flourish - particularly in Catalonia. The name of the instrument derives from the Catalan word for Jackdaw, a noisy member of the crow family, and the double reed of the instrument can indeed be made to sound very much like the bird. The familiar oboe is a refined derivative of the shawm. 

The members of Els Carreter are Ramon Fontova, Oriol Junyent, Pau Plana, Albert Solé on gralles and Robert Querol on timbal. They appear to play modern, fully chromatic versions of the gralla although the sound is much the same as the traditional open hole model. Els Carreter were formed in 2001 in the city of Lleide in the western part of Catalonia. The performance in this video comes from Festa Major de Vilafranca in August of this year. Els Carreter were one of thirteen gralles ensembles performing - you can find the full program here.  If you want to hear more traditional music played on gralles, view this video. If you want to learn more about the gralla, visit

I am no judge of gralla playing but Libertango is all here - perhaps from an arrangement originally created for four clarinets - and I enjoyed it.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012


The third generation of Piazzolla Electrónico made its debut at the recent Tango Festival of Buenos Aires.  That festival was devoted to the music of Astor Piazzolla in honor of the twentieth anniversary of his death. A highlight of the festival was the performance by Daniel Astor "Pipi" Piazzolla's Electronico ensemble featured in today's video.

The first generation Piazzolla Electrónico was that created in 1975, when Astor Piazzolla decided to modernize his sound by "plugging in" and formed the Electronic Octet. He replaced the acoustic bass of his Quintet with an electric bass guitar and added synthesizer (played by his son, Daniel), electronic organ and a full set of drums to form the octet. The group had some success, they performed at Carnegie Hall, and their performances are captured in a series of eight YouTube videos which begin here.  There was a brief second version of the group formed in Europe with a completely different set of musicians except for his son, Daniel.  According to the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango, Piazzolla did not view the Octet as a success and fairly quickly returned to the sound of his Quintet.

Shortly after Piazzolla's death, his son Daniel, who retained the original scores of the Electronic Octet, reformed the octet, the second generation Piazzolla Electrónico, and made a recording in honor of his father. Three of the tracks on that recording follow the original Octet scores. The sound of that octet can be heard on the recording, Piazzolla by Piazzolla.  Significantly, Daniel's son, Pipi, played drums in that octet recording.  It was perhaps the first time that three generations of Piazzolla's had been united musically - Astor's music played by son and grandson.

And now we have the third generation Piazzolla Electrónico - not an octet but an extended version of the group, Escalandrum, which produced the album named by this blog as Piazzolla Recording of the Year, Piazzolla Plays Piazzolla. Added to Escalandrum were Lautaro Greco on bandoneón, Lucio Balduini on guitar, and Esteban Sehinkman on synthesizer.  Martín Rur replaced the usual Escalandrum bass clarinetist, Martín Pantyrer. And, Pipi's father, Daniel, made his return to the stage playing percussion alongside his son.

The group performed all four of Piazzolla's Seasons. To my knowledge, Escalandrum has not previously performed the Seasons so this was new new territory for them.  Escalandrum's pianist, Nicolas Guerschberg, provided the arrangements and they are excellent. In an interview, Pipi mentioned that his Electrónico's version of Verano Porteño was based on the version Piazzolla created for his Nonet which you can hear on the 1983 recording, Concierto de Nácar.  You will find reviews of the concert which suggest that the other Seasons are based on the original Electronic Octet scores but in the absence of recordings from the Octet, that is difficult to confirm.

The quality of the sound in the video below is not very good but a video found here is much better suggesting that we may someday have a recording directly from the sound board - maybe even a DVD.  You will hear three of the Seasons in today's video.  The first is Invierno Porteño and except for the synthesizer prelude it is a very standard version of the work - modified only for the unusual instrumentation of the group. The second piece, Primavera Porteña which begins at 8'50" begins to show the jazz capabilities of Escalandrum with an improvisational section at 12'40" and a nice piano solo. The third piece, Verano Porteño, which starts at 14'30" into the video, is the most creatively arranged.  It opens with a synthesizer prelude which can be described as creative but irrelevant. After the prelude, it does indeed follow the Nonet arrangement for the first five minutes, although with some liberties taken with rhythm and counter-melodies.  At the five minute point, the Nonet version enters a lyrical string phase and Guerschberg wisely makes a decision that lyrical strings are not an Escalandrum strength and brings the work to a close with some of the best jazz of the concert.  The Electrónico's version of Otoño Porteño is not included in the video below but is available on YouTubeOtoño opens with a drum solo, giving Pipi a chance to show his skills, and proceeds in a fairly standard manner.  Greco's bandoneón work in Otoño is excellent, played with feeling and expression. Guerschberg's transposition of some of the violin parts to bass clarinet works well - I wish he had made more such decisions to give prominence to the violin parts in the other Seasons. The saxophones finally get a chance to break loose at about 8'30" into the video but the arrangement returns then to a classic ending.  

All things considered,  the concert was a success and a fitting tribute to Astor Piazzolla.  I hope better quality audio or video of the concert is eventually made available.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Piazzolla in the Park - Again

Twenty-five years ago, September 6, 1987, residents of New York City were treated to a free concert by Piazzolla and his Quintet at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park.  Last week, August 7, residents of New York City were again treated to a free concert of Piazzolla's music at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, this time provided by Pablo Ziegler and his Quartet accompanied by violinist, Lara St. John. Highlights from that concert are in our featured video today.

Twenty-five years ago, it rained on the concert. This year, the weather was perfect. Twenty-five years ago, the concert was broadcast live by New York's Public Radio station, WNYC. This year, the concert was broadcast live by WNYC's classical music sibling, WQXR - and it was shared live in a webstream provided by  You can, today, hear the full concert on their website and I urge you to do so.You can hear the 1987 concert on the recording, Astor Piazzolla: The Central Park Concert.  Both years, Pablo Ziegler was on stage - in 1987, he was pianist in the quintet which included Piazzolla on bandoneón, Fernando Suarez Paz on violin, Horacio Malvicino on electric guitar and Hector Console on contra-bass; in 2012, he was pianist in a quintet which included Hector de Curto on bandoneon, Lara St. John on violin, Claudio Ragazzi on electric guitar and Andrew Roitstein on contra-bass.

If listeners or attendees to last weeks concert expected a reproduction of the 1987 concert, they were disappointed.  Six works from the 2012 broadcast had the same titles as the 1987 CD. In two of these, Adios Nonino and La Camorra/Tanguedia, the Ziegler/St. John performances closely followed the original Piazzolla scores; Mumuki and Lunfardo were similar to the originals with some improvisational liberties taken; Michelangelo 70 and Muerte del Angel were markedly different - restructured to better fit the jazz idiom more natural to Ziegler's quartet. Four pieces from the original concert CD were not covered: Verano Porteno, Milonga del angel, Contrabajissimo and Concierto para quinteto. Covered instead were Libertango, Escualo, Fuga y misterio and Chin chin (as an encore). They also performed two of Zieglers own compositions, Milonga del adios and Muchacha de Boedo, the latter of which was actually the musical gem of the evening from a performance perspective.

Pablo Ziegler is a well-known performer to regular readers of this blog and he was at the top of his game for the concert.  He played with the confidence, creativity and dexterity of a man twenty-five years younger.  Ziegler has made his own mark in the world of jazz tango but his respect for the music of Piazzolla still shows in his playing.  His presence made the concert a success.  Del Curto's sound level was too low in the broadcast mix but it was apparent that he was playing with more precision and accuracy than emotion. If one were to plot the first and second derivatives of his bellows pressure, it would look like the plains of western Kansas - a similar plot of the bellows of Piazzolla would look like the rocky mountains of Colorado.  His style is better suited to the subtle nature of traditional tango than to the existential nature of nuevo tango. Ragazzi's improvisational spins were a joy and his coverage of Malvicino's parts, more than adequate.  Roitstein's bass remained in the background - even in those spots in Lunfardo where Console brought his bass to the fore - but he did provide the rhythmic backbone which provides the "tango" to Piazzolla's "nuevo tango."  And that leaves Lara St. John for comment...

A during-the-concert interview of Lara St. John by the WQXR host, Midge Woolsey, revealed that the concert was St. John's idea.  She recruited Ziegler and his friends to the event. St. John is no stranger to Piazzolla's music, she grew up listening to it and has recorded a very successful CD of Piazzolla's four seasons but to my knowledge, she has never played any of the works in this concert in public before. You may note in the video, there is no music in front of her.  Ms. Woolsey observed in the broadcast that St. John was playing without music. For a classically trained musician, this is nothing short of incredible and demonstrates to me that this is music which goes to her heart. There was some penalty to be paid - there were times when she left out musical detail but she never lost the plot and she found the emotion in Piazzolla's music that Del Curto missed. She plays with a bit of the Romani soul that always seemed to touch Suarez Paz's violin (although she would benefit from applying a little more of Suarez Paz's discipline to her own violin). It is much clearer from the video than from the radio broadcast that she is feeling and enjoying the music.  St. John was the classical star that made the broadcast a legitimate target for classical station WQXR but she also proved that she is a legitimate carrier of the nuevo tango tradition. I look forward to hearing more Piazzolla in Ms. St. John's future recordings.

Bravo to all!

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Todo Buenos Aires - Astor Piazzolla Quintet

While many jump to the conclusion that Astor Piazzolla's only concert appearance in New York City was the 1987 event immortalized in the Central Park Concert CD, David Butler Cannata has pointed out in a Latin American Music Review article that he had five other concert appearances in New York City.  His first was more than twenty years earlier when he and his first quintet appeared at the Philharmonic Hall in May of 1965. That concert is represented in a recording, Concierto de tango en el Philharmonic Hall of New York although the recording was actually made in a studio in Buenos Aires upon the Quintets return home. Todo Buenos Aires is included in that recording and appears on no other Piazzolla recording.  Much to my surprise, a video recording recently appeared on YouTube and is our featured video today.

There is no information with the video but it is probably from a 1965 television broadcast in Buenos Aires.  Perhaps a reader more familiar with Argentine TV from that era can provide more information. The members of the first quintet in the video are Piazzolla on bandoneón, Antonio Agri on violin, Jaime Gosis on piano, Oscar López Ruiz on guitar and Kicho Díaz on double bass. The performance is almost identical, note-for-note with the recording although there are some differences in the percussive effects used.  Unfortunately, the sound and video get progressively out of sync as the performance progresses but this is still a wonderful addition to the collection of original Piazzolla videos.

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