Portrait of Astor Piazzolla
Retrato de Astor Piazzolla - Portrait of Astor Piazzolla, perhaps an ambitious title, but one that the Trio NoviTango live up to gloriously by capturing the spirit and emotion of Astor Piazzolla's music with an unprecedented depth, spirituality, and intensity. Released on the Oriente label in 1995, Trio NoviTango's Retrato de Astor Piazzolla is as fresh today as the day it left the presses, an exciting discovery if you're new to it, and still always surprising if you're not.
Trio NoviTango are part of a series of ensembles under the NoviTango name, expanding up to seven, that were formed by Argentinean-born pianist Hugo Aisemberg in 1993 to disseminate Argentinean culture in general and the tango, and the Tango Nuevo of Astor Piazzolla in particular, to a wider world audience. The trio consists of Hugo Aisemberg himself at the piano, Roberto Cima, cello, and Juan Lucas Aisemberg, viola. All three are classically trained, with established careers in the classical sphere, and should hardly need any introduction here. Violist Juan Lucas Aisemberg perhaps has spread his musical wings the most widely, not only being a violist with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and a member of mezzo-soprano Lloica Czackis' Tangele ensemble, but also extending himself in the jazz sphere. Trio NoviTango have performed extensively in Italy and the rest of continental Europe, as well as Argentina.
Now you might well wonder, where is that most quintessential of tango instruments, the bandoneon, and isn't Piazzolla without bandoneon almost something of an oxymoron? Trio NoviTango take a very classical approach with their instrumentation of viola, cello and piano (and a few pieces, solo piano, or viola and cello, viola and piano, and cello and piano), and in so doing avoid stereotypes and clichés, instead presenting a new Piazzolla with their rich sonorities and exposing the very soul of the great composer with their intimacy, spontaneity and wit. With the piano providing the solid grounding, the cello emphasizes drama and the viola romance and melancholy.
Retrato de Astor Piazzolla opens and closes with what are perhaps Piazzolla's best-known and most popular compositions, Michelangelo '70 and Libertango. But I doubt that there is any danger of anybody skipping everything in between. They'd certainly miss quite a treasure trove. There are no weak tracks here, Trio NoviTango's Retrato de Astor Piazzolla is as solidly consistent an album as you could wish for.
The drama of Michelangelo '70 grabs the attention straight away and indeed sets the tone for the rest of this album. This interpretation of Piazzolla is exciting as well as touching, refreshingly new, the raw emotion and tension almost overwhelming at times. The immediate contrast of the deep melancholy of Tristeza De Un Doble A to the opening track is striking. Escualo returns to drama with gusto and touches of romance. A romantic cameo follows in Picasso, and Hugo Aisemberg's solo piano here could make you believe you are listening to an orchestra with delicate touches and now delicate, then vibrant hues drawn from a vast palette. He continues in a similar vein on Prepárense, with a delightful touch that brings out the almost Debussy-esque character of this piece. The trio returns in full with Milonga Del Ángel and the superbly romantic, almost melancholy viola of Juan Lucas Aisemberg underscored by the cello of Roberto Cima, with the drama intensifying, then ebbing again. As the title would already suggest, La Muerte Del Ángel brings drama and tragedy, interspersed with the most elegant melancholy, in what is the most exciting interpretation of this particular piece that I have heard yet. Piano and viola only are heard on Oblivión, and they certainly make it live up to its title beautifully with deep melancholy fading into nothingness. Lunfardo again features viola and piano, and here romance prevails for the most part.
The largely contemplative Milonga En Ay Menor is presented by viola and cello only, providing a temporary island of peace among the sea of high emotion, excitement and tension. Jeanne Y Paul, on cello and piano only, ranges from almost swinging to stately elegance with touches of romance. Cello and piano also provide the instrumentation for Milonga Sin Palabras, best described as stately romance. El Penúltimo is the final outing for cello and piano alone, ranging from the dramatic to the near-melodramatic. The full trio returns for the remaining tracks with Novitango, with the intensity building up further and further. Amelitango, foreshadowing Libertango, raises the tension further. The build-up continues with Meditango, the relentless ostinato piano contrasting beautifully with the singing, flirtatious viola in the first third or so of the piece. Romance and high-tension drama remain close bed fellows here. Finally, we reach the climactic exuberance of Libertango, contrasting high drama with joyful exhilaration in perhaps the most dramatic and exciting arrangement since Piazzolla's own.
Trio NoviTango's Retrado de Astor Piazzolla is the most exciting album of the tangos of Astor Piazzolla for a long time. Its high-tension, high-energy style is breathtaking, and the performance of both the trio as a whole and the individual musicians is nothing short of brilliant. Hugo Aisemberg's arrangements bear the stamp of true genius. Trio NoviTango do indeed paint a portrait of Piazzolla, of Piazzolla's very soul even, with their extraordinary Retrado de Astor Piazzolla. I have to confess to being something of a Piazzolla "nut", but I absolutely wouldn't be without this glorious, magnificent album anymore! Way beyond essential.
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