Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) didn't make the tango more respectable, necessarily, but he elevated it to the level of art-music – somewhere in between jazz and classical music – much to the chagrin and anger of some of his countrymen. For the most part, however, he was very much appreciated during his lifetime, and in the 16 years since his death, interest in his music has only increased. Yo-Yo Ma and Gidon Kremer are just two of the classical musicians who have taken a crack at it, and so has jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton (who actually performed with Piazzolla at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and elsewhere).
This release, recorded in Chile and Spain, captures much of Piazzolla's spirit, although it would make a rather perverse introduction to his music. Piazzolla's instrument was the bandoneon, a close relative of the accordion, and his music was and continues to be closely associated with the sound of that instrument. On this CD, though, you will not hear a bandoneon or even an accordion. The Versus Ensemble, "dedicated to the interpretation of the music of […] Piazzolla," is made up of a violin, soprano and alto saxophones, piano, guitar, and double bass. For the most part, violin and saxophones take the part of the bandoneon both cleverly and expertly, but there's no getting around the fact the music's character is changed in the process.
The more vexing problem is that Naxos has denied us texts and translations for the vocal selections, which take up about half the disc. The label's usual solution of putting them online has not been utilized here, for whatever reason. If you don't understand Spanish, you're out of luck, and that's too bad, because Horacio Ferrer's words are pretty good. (It's quite a coup that the Versus Ensemble was able to secure his participation on this CD's final track.)
Still, one can't help but like this CD. The Versus Ensemble doesn't make the mistake of performing Piazzolla's music too politely, singer Enrique Moratalla is gritty and emotional in his selections, and soprano María Rey-Joly adds operatic stature and passion, but not pomp, to "Yo soy María" from the opera María de Buenos Aires. Inauthentic in their details, these performances are very authentic in their soul, and Naxos' engineering captures the music and the playing in all their glorious detail.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle