Tributes to Astor Piazzolla seem to be cropping up lately. There's the one by Yo Yo Ma, and the jazz-driven works by Gary Burton and friends. You might ask what two classically trained Dutch Performers would bring to the table. Quite a lot, as it turns out.
A bit of background: Astor Piazzolla was the Argentinian bandoneon-player and composer who is often called the Duke Ellington of the Tango, the person who brought a musical form out of the dance hall and into the concert hall. Even more than Ellington, however, he had serious classical training, having studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. His music brings elements of jazz and classical music to the Tango, traditionally an exciting but less than adventurous kind of dance music. For this he was at first despised, and then revered in his native Argentina (in New York and Italy, however, reverence always seems to have been the reaction). He recorded numerous records as a bandleader with several of them, most notably Zero Hour and The New Tango, considered classics.
Now, unto the task at hand: Saxophonist Henk van Twillert and violinist Sonja van Beek decided that they would do the obvious: get together with a string quintet and record some tango. The bandoneon, Piazzolla's instrument and the tango's main voice, is completely absent, with its place taken by the sax. The vibes and percussion that characterize much of Piazzolla's music are also gone. The result, however, is entirely something the composer would have been proud of. Burton's highly regarded outings for Concord reminded us how much jazz is in Piazzolla's music. In this case, our Dutch friends remind us how much Astor took from the European classical tradition. His music sounds as appropriate with a string quintet as a jazz combo.
Don't get the wrong idea though. This is tango, not chamber music and it positively swings, or stomps, or whatever it is tango does when it makes you want to move. I can't dance tango to save my life but if I could, I bet I could dance to this. The playing is exemplary all around, and some of the slower pieces are particularly beautiful. Van Beek plays a 1709 Strad' and her tone is truly lovely.
This is probably not the best introduction to Piazzolla's work-- it isn't meant to be. But, if you're a Astorhead like me, it's a fresh and satisfying take on the music of one of the 20th century's greatest talents, in any genre.