Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla [1921-1992] has been part of a revival of the tango on the world’s musical stages. This work, Five Tango Sensations, written by Piazzolla, has the composer on bandoneon (an accordian-like instrument), supported by the Kronos Quartet. It is one of the many CDs on which Kronos have joined forces with other musicians. Since encountering the bandoneon on this album, I have formed quite an attraction to it. I particularly enjoy the work of Dino Saluzzi, who has many fine albums on ECM. If you like sparsity, check out his solo album Alina on ECM.
Five Tango Sensations consists of named movements, as follows:
Asleep – A fabulous opening with slow solo bandoneon. It becomes very haunting when the strings come in. Then a key change enhances the mood. The violin eventually takes up the main melody until the bandoneon re-enters – beautiful! It cuts back to a solo, then the cello comes to the forefront until the quiet conclusion.
Loving – Another lonely slow solo bandoneon opening. This is a very arresting movement as the bandoneon meanders over the string background, while never straying too far from the melancholic mood. The strings switch to pizzicato for a while, but the melancholy returns when they take it out with a repeat of the melody.
Anxiety – More insistent. A repeated motif accompanies the bandoneon until the cello takes over, to wonderful effect. There are some stunning moments of interplay and the piece concludes as it started, while fading out.
Despartar – A simple melody and a deeply moving, very restrained piece.
Fear – Starts at a medium tempo, with solo bandoneon until it is joined by the viola for a dancing duet. Then the rest of the ensemble enter. Virtually the whole piece is based on a single rhythmic pattern, occasionally broken up by pizzicato passages.
These are fabulous, beautifully layered pieces of music. The textures are quite wonderful. The thing that strikes me the most is the wistful sound of the bandoneon. It’s just so expressive.
The CD only runs to 26 minutes and, when I purchased it, it was at a reduced price. It’s still available on Amazon and reasonably priced. I have also seen other versions of the piece, but not heard them.
It is on Spotify and many versions of individual movements are on YouTube. The complete work is on earsense, together with recordings of three other short works for string quartet, which are most interesting. I particularly enjoyed the four-minute Oblivion for String Quartet.
Listenability: Sustained state of wonder.