A riveting, dramatic, and even sexy listen.
Charlotte Gardner 2009-11-04
In the classical world, Astor Piazzolla was a one-off. His fusion of classical forms with jazz and Argentine tango makes it almost impossible to stick a definitive label on his music, and therein lays its artistic attraction and accessibility.
In Piazzolla and Beyond, chamber string ensemble London Concertante perform six of his works alongside four new compositions by their violinist leader Adam Summerhayes and pianist/composer David Gordon. If you’re susceptible to tango overload then it probably isn’t for you, but you’d missing out on a riveting, dramatic, even sexy listen (and how often do you read that word in a classical review?).
Piazzolla rarely used a string orchestra, so some serious arranging has been necessary. In 1974, when he wrote the famous Libertango that opens this disc, his regular octet consisted of bandoneon (a sort of accordion), electric and/or acoustic piano, organ, guitar and electric bass, drums, synthesizer and violin. Whilst Gordon appears here as guest jazz pianist, London Concertante hasn’t stretched to a drum kit or a synthesizer. Instead, the percussive effects are created with their bows and fiddles, and the result is electric. The arrangements sometimes also stretch Piazzolla stylistically further than he would have gone himself: in Decarisimo, his famous disencouragement of jazz improvisation is thrown to the wind with the funky addition of bebop piano. As for the new works, they’re a perfect fit, whether in close stylistic homage such as Summerhayes’ sombre When Churchyards Yawn, or a step further away such as Gordon’s Augmented Tango. The final track, Summerhayes’ El Desposeido, is an “exercise in the compositional art of crescendo” that works reflections of the opening Libertango towards a devastating and gripping climax.
London Concertante demonstrates extraordinary versatility for a classical ensemble, with a sound that would feel as appropriate in a smoky jazz bar or Argentine tango club as it would in a concert hall. Their skill is summed up in Michaelangelo 70, a dramatic performance of feather-light virtuosity that is so tightly together that it would feel inhuman if there weren’t so much soul in the playing. Bravo.