December 17, 2020


Ástor Piazzolla: Aconcagua—Concerto for Bandoneón, Percussion and String Orchestra; Richard Galliano: Opale Concerto for Accordion and String Orchestra. Jovica Ivanović, accordion; Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Vitaliy Protasov. Navona. $14.99.

Ástor Piazzolla: Las cuatro estaciones porteñas; Arno Babadjanian: Trio for piano, violin and cello; Gayané Chebotaryan: Piano Trio. Trio de l’Île (Uliana Drugova, violin; Dominique Beauséjour-Ostiguy, cello; Patil Harboyan, piano). Divine Art. $18.99.

     Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) is most famous for bringing the tango out of its somewhat “downscale” origins and its provenance in dance halls and into concert-hall music. Among the many compositions in which he reinterpreted the tango, the most famous is Las cuatro estaciones porteñas, or “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” which – unlike Vivaldi’s famed seasonal concertos – offers the seasons in the order of autumn, winter, spring and summer. Piazzolla actually wrote the work as four separate pieces, one each in 1965 and 1969 and two in 1970, although he himself occasionally performed the works as a set. And in a clear indication of the way Piazzolla forged a connection between folk and concert-hall music, his original scoring for the works was for a quintet consisting of violin or viola, piano, electric guitar, double bass and the accordion-like bandoneón. However, the music has been arranged for many other instrumental combinations, and has become so popular as to obscure much of the rest of Piazzolla’s output – a fact that makes the new Navona release of his bandoneón concerto, Aconcagua, all the more welcome. Jovica Ivanović plays it on an accordion, which is not as simple a transformation as it might seem, since the accordion produces the same note on the push and pull, while the bandoneón produces two different ones – and does not sound quite the same, despite the fact that both are hand-bellows-operated reed instruments. Since this concerto is scarcely well-known, though, the differences between its sound on bandoneón and accordion are unlikely to be of much significance to most listeners. And the work itself is certainly worth hearing. There is plenty of sprightly bounce to the first movement, a degree of somewhat overdone emotional outreach in the second (which has a definite pop-music flavor), and considerable dash and spirit in the Presto finale, where the interplay between soloist and percussion is quite neatly done. Ivanović performs with enthusiasm and is well-supported by the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra under Vitaliy Protasov. The paired work on the disc, Opale by Richard Galliano (born 1950), also comes off very well. Written specifically for accordion, it lies more naturally on that instrument than does the Piazzolla concerto, and takes full advantage of the accordion’s capabilities of chordal and individual-note contrast. Galliano’s use of organ-like sounds in the second movement, marked Moderato malinconico, is especially noteworthy – and the way he contrasts them with a kind of barrel-organ rhythm is fascinating. The finale’s use of string orchestra (no percussion in this work) is also quite effective. Both these pieces offer welcome chances to hear some fine playing and unusual scoring, and the Piazzolla gives listeners a good opportunity to hear one of the composer’s larger-scale compositions – although the fact that the entire CD lasts only 44 minutes is something of a disappointment.

     What is intriguing about the Piazzolla performance by Trio de l’Île on a new Divine Art CD is not the repertoire – the players offer, yes, Las cuatro estaciones porteñas – but the arrangement of the Piazzolla material, and the ways in which it contrasts with the other two pieces on the disc, which will almost certainly be wholly unknown to most audiences. The Piazzolla has an especially strong flavor of the concert hall in this arrangement and in this trio’s performance: the dance rhythms are certainly there and are emphasized as appropriate, but much of the emphasis is on tonal warmth and the sort of “conversational” balance that sounds so good in classical chamber music. The musical flow rather than its rhythmic changes gets the emphasis here, and the progression through the year is highlighted by placing the seasons in the same order in which Vivaldi offered them. Thus, the arrangement, by J. Bragato, is not at all true to Piazzolla’s intentions – and the work itself is incorrectly stated on the package to date to 1960. But if the Trio de l’Île performance is looked at as a rethinking and reinterpretation of Piazzolla’s music and a pleasant aural journey, it is quite successful on those terms. And coupling the Argentinian material, however much it may be modified, with two works by Armenian composers, is an interesting decision. The 1952 Trio for piano, violin and cello by Arno Babadjanian (1921-1983) is the same length as the Piazzolla work (albeit in three movements) and has considerable expressiveness: the first movement dwells on the strings’ lower ranges to fine effect; the second features a particularly beautiful melody first heard very high on the violin and then winningly disposed among the three instruments; and the finale sweeps away the emotional heft of the earlier movements with panache in a burst of rhythmically attractive thematic material that sounds folklike even though it is not drawn directly from Armenia’s folk music. Also on the disc is the 1945 Piano Trio by Gayané Chebotaryan (1918-1998), a short work (eight-and-a-half minutes) that is folk-inspired. Its string pizzicati and dancelike piano elements, plus some strongly emotive violin lines, convey its mood effectively, and its character comes through very well indeed in this performance. Although the disc will not be anyone’s first choice for the Piazzolla material, which is inauthentic despite its fine sound, the CD presents a good opportunity for listeners to explore 20th-century piano trios from Armenia and to think about ways in which their expressiveness fits, or does not fit, with Argentinian material from the same time period.

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