WORKS: The Piazzolla Project: Concierto para quinteto; Estaciones porteñas; Fuga y misterio; Suite del ángel
PERFORMER: Artemis Quartet; Jacques Ammon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 267 2920
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. 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