Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Folklore & European tradition in piano music from Argentina

From May 12, 2010:


The arts in Argentina, like in so many New World countries, come from a fine balance of indigenous folklore and European traditions. Jorge Luis Borges argues, in "The Argentine Writer and Tradition", that Argentine writers must be free to invent their own literature in the context of the entire range of world literature. Thus Borges writes in the gaucho tradition of Martín Fierro, but at the same time in the traditions of the Norse Eddas, Cervantes, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

For those who know Astor Piazzolla only as a composer in the "nuevo tango" tradition (and the "nuevo" is problematic, since few are really aware of the classic tango sound), this CD might be a revelation. Piazzolla's biography - check out the excellent article on Wikipedia - is full of things you wouldn't expect. Though he was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1921, he spent most of his childhood in New York City, where he made early musical connections with jazz and with J.S. Bach. By the mid-50s, Piazzolla was in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger. Certainly Piazzolla had strong links with classic tango traditions, but there is also a jazz element in his "nuevo tango", and a strong classical foundation in all of his music (besides Bach there are the same French and Stravinskian influences you hear in Villa-Lobos, with an additional mid-century avante-garde sound Villa never sampled). This excellent disc of piano music from Argentina played by Carmen Piazzini has a thesis that is similar to that of Borges. The best composers of Argentina work in a much broader context than the traditional dance tunes of gauchos and tangueros. The short pieces by Piazzolla included in this well-filled disc include some jazzy pieces with an improvised feel (Picasso), and tango-tinged Bachianas (Preludio para la Cruz del Sur). Both styles can move sideways into Debussy or Chopin, and then shift back to the more familiar Argentina tango/milonga sound.

Alberto Ginastera doesn't need any special pleading to place him amongst the greatest composers of the 20th Century (in the World, not just in South America). Like his peers Carlos Chavez and Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ginastera moves easily from folklore-inspired pieces to more classically-structured, abstract works, as you can hear in the two works on this disc. Both Milonga (1938) and the dance-sonata Danzas Argentinas (1940) are from his "Objective Nationalist" phase, and both include piano-writing at the highest level. The other composers - most of them new to me - are represented by short works that can each be called "characteristic pieces". The works of the master art-song writer Carlos Guastavino stand out, as does Alberto Williams' piece. But this music is all of high quality, and the entire disc provides a pleasing variety of very listenable music.

This is a re-packaging of a CD originally recorded in Germany in 1997. The sound is excellent, with a natural piano sound that suits the music.

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