Piazzolla: Estaciones porteñas

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COMPOSERS: Duran,Ginastera,Piazzolla
LABELS: Analekta
WORKS: Piazzolla: Estaciones porteñas; Oblivion; Milonga del ángel; Muerte del ángel; Resurrección del ángel; Tango del ángel; Duran: New Danzon; Contradanza; Ginastera: Milongo
PERFORMER: The Gryphon Trio
CATALOGUE NO: AN 2 9857

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When Argentinian Astor Piazzolla died in 1992, only a few buffs were familiar with his idiosyncratic hybrid: tango rhythm with assured classical technique; MOR-ballad appeal with combative, Bartók-like dissonance and thrust.

Today the Piazzolla bandwagon, surging along to its 3-3-2 beat, seems unstoppable. Amazon can sell you over 1,400 recordings, and on a summer evening in London he’ll be throbbing soulfully at several outdoor concerts. Smart, stylish, often beautiful exterior; underneath, self-doubt, pain, regret and fear. No wonder Piazzolla’s cask-strength music has such urban appeal in an anxious age.

These discs both give us piano-trio versions of the now-familiar Cuatro estaciones porteñas (Four Seasons in Buenos Aires). No Vivaldi-style twittering birds here: these are psychological, human seasons. The Artemis Project (AP) use their own inventive arrangements; the Gryphon Trio (GT), José Bragato’s ‘more standard’ ones.

They can differ significantly: AP add intros, change registers, and spice things up liberally with those percussive scratches, knocks and string swoops that Piazzolla loved (and swap a viola for violin in ‘Winter’). It notices particularly in ‘Spring’. AP gives us an Angel Suite, four of Piazzolla’s loosely-related ‘angel’ set (Introduction, Tango, Milonga, Death) arranged convincingly and poignantly for string quartet.

GT’s angel selection (Milonga, Death, Resurrection, Tango) use lovely Bragato-style arrangements for piano trio. The Milonga, a Piazzolla signature piece, shows the different approaches: AP’s front-lit, nervy high registers; GT’s rather more resigned, side-lit piano shadows. 

AP include an urgent Fuga y misterio, and a crisp Concierto para quinteto; GT add Oblivion. Interpretatively, AP tend to be faster in the fast sections and slower in the slow, with string solos being a little more intense; GT are a little more laid-back, with a plummier sound.

If you were selecting dancers (not that Piazzolla wrote these to dance to: like Bach, they’re abstracted dance forms, stand-alone music) AP would have the neurotic-thin smoker, vividly made up and tautly gesturing her stockinged legs; GT would get her elder sister with the beautiful sad smile and dewy-eyed hard-luck stories.

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Both are superbly played with great style and intense emotion; as with whisky-or-wine, which you prefer depends on taste and circumstance. Rob Ainsley