BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014: INTO OBLIVION Beautifully Explored the Music of Astor Piazzolla
Reviewed Saturday 21st June 2014
Argentinean composer and bandoneónista, Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla, took the Tango and turned it on its head, creating what is known as nuevo tango, a merging of the tango with jazz and classical music. Adelaide audiences were, in fact, recently treated to a magnificent production of his opera, Maria de Buenos Aires that showed how far he took the tango from its origins as dance music. For that production a bandoneónista was brought over from Argentina.
Classically trained pianist, Ambre Hammond, piano, and piano accordionist, Marcello Maio, have released a CD based around the music of Piazzolla, titled Into Oblivion, and most of the tracks formed a part of this concert.
The bandoneón is the instrument of the tango, that gives it that distinctive sound, and it was developed in Germany by Heinrich Band around 1840 for playing religious music and popular music. It is a member of the concertina family, but much larger, with buttons at either end each of which sounding a different note depending on whether the bellows are being pulled open or pushed close, giving around 142 notes that can be played individually or several at a time to create chords. Playing scales and runs of single notes is not easy as it was designed primarily to play chords to accompany hymn singing. The left hand plays the bass notes and the right hand plays the treble. The bellows are huge, made in three sections joined together. In the 1870s in Argentina it was adopted into the milonga music, from which the tango later developed.
Marcello Maio does not play bandoneón but, luckily, his impressive Scandalli 120 bass piano accordion has a bank of couplers on both side, enabling him to select a bandoneón sound.
The concert opened after an extended introduction from Hammond, in which she admitted to wondering what they were doing in a cabaret festival, with the lively first track from the CD, Revirado, which means irritable, or crazy. then it was back to Hammond for some more comical chat, at which time we discover that the talking part of the evening is either poking fun a Maio or anecdotes about her career as a concert pianist. He speaks entirely through his music.
Two more of Piazzolla's pieces followed, the evocative Vuelvo Al Sur (returning to the south), and the well known and impassioned piece, Adios Nonino, written for his father after his death. Out of nowhere, the next piece was by Achille Claude Debussy's Beau Soir (Beautiful Evening), arranged by the duo from an arrangement by Jascha Heifitz. Through some rather thoughtless planning, this was accompanied by the thundering from the next venue where Archie Roach was playing, an unpleasant noise that continued to intrude throughout the concert, disturbing the concentration of the two musicians.
Piazzolla's Cafe, 1930 from the suite, Histoire du Tango, was next, marking the time when people began dancing less and listening more to the slower movements and more emotional themes. Some were even being sung. Each artist then took a solo to show their impressively virtuosic individual skills.
By contrast, Danish composer Jacob Gade's Jalousie 'Tango Tzigane' (Jealousy), one of the best known tangos, is an example of pre-Piazzolla, a straightforward tango rhythm at a constant tempo to which the basic' slow-slow-quick-quick-slow' ballroom dance steps can be easily applied. Piazzolla was only four years old when this was written, the same year that his parents moved to New York.
A brief trip to Brazil for the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Portrait in Black and White, brought us back to Piazzolla again for Milonga Del Angel, the milonga being an earlier dance and music form. This was originally a chamber piece, arranged by the duo, played with lots of emotion. The title tune, Oblivion, then closed the concert. The two musicians thrilled with their technical expertise but, more so, with their deep involvement with the music, and their ability to create a convincing atmosphere of being in Argentina during the 20th Century. It left one wishing one could be there now.
I have to admit that I was personally a little disappointed that one of his most loved and best known pieces, Libertango, was not played, even though it is on the CD but, one can't have everything in life. Perhaps next time they are in Adelaide.