Quinteto Astor Piazzolla at Florida’s Kravis Center for the Performing Arts

Tres Minutos con la Realidad Soledad
Milonga Loca
Invierno Porteño
Operation Tango
Fuga y Misterio
Verano Porteño
Milonga del Ángel
Adiós Nonino
La Muerte del Ángel

Quinteto Astor Piazzolla [Pablo Mainetti (bandoneón); Bárbara Varassi Pega (piano); Serdar Geldymuradov (violin); Armando de La Vega (electric guitar); Daniel Valasca (double bass); Julián Vat (music director)]

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 12 November, 2021
Venue: Rinker Playhouse, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida

Quinteto Astor Piazzolla is celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the eponymous Argentine composer-bandoneónist with a world tour, performing a representative selection of his prolific output that revolutionized the tango. Formed in 1998, six years after Piazzolla’s death, and dedicated to performance and preservation of his works, the Quintet comprises the instrumentation he innovated in 1960 and for which much of his prolific output was written. This exciting concert of seventy-five minutes without intermission offered a generous and varied sampling of Piazzolla’s music, performed in his original arrangements.

The program included several of Piazzolla’s best-known works. Most famous of all, offered as the penultimate selection, was Adiós Nonino, written following the death of his father in 1959, in which pianist Bárbara Varassi Pega’s extended introduction was an eloquent expression of the composer’s grief and remembrance. Also on the bill were the Winter and Summer selections from Cuatro Estaciones Porteño (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), in which Pablo Mainetti’s bandoneón served as a concerto solo instrument, showing off dazzling speed and agility, churning rhythmic pulses, and poignant lyricism. Fuga y Mysterio opened with an extended fugue, demonstrating the influence of Bach that pervades many of Piazzolla’s compositions. Although this work is often performed by larger ensembles, these five musicians managed to do full justice to its intricacies, and the lovely second section that faded away gently provided a pleasant departure from the strong two-note cadences that conclude most tangos.

In Piazzolla’s ‘Nuevo Tango’ idiom, influenced by five years of study with Alberto Ginastera, each instrument serves at times as a source of melody and at others of rhythm. The bandoneón was, of course, Piazzolla’s instrument, so his arrangements naturally give it the dominant role, which Mainetti carried off brilliantly. He projected melodies with artful phrasing, but also provided elaborate figurations as counterpoint, and sometimes even slapped the body of the bandoneón to produce sharp, percussive sounds.

Varassi Pega’s piano forcefully pounded out the beat, but also contributed soothingly lyrical passages as well as sweeping glissandos and rapid passagework. Joining the Quintet for this year’s tour, she fits right into the ensemble’s complete mastery of the tango idiom. She is not only a virtuoso pianist, but also a music educator with a Ph.D. dissertation on “Creating and Re-creating Tangos: Artistic Processes and Innovations in Music by Pugliese, Salgán, Piazzolla and Beytelmann,” and is the author of a book on “The Art of Tango.”

Serdar Geldymuradov provided many sweetly melodic tunes, his violin particularly impressive in Escualo (Shark), in which it was at the forefront throughout. There were frequent percussive touches – especially prominent in Decarismo and Operation Tango – including whip-crack up-bows, bowing below the bridge of the violin to create a guiro-like ratcheting sound, and unusual double-stopping to mimic the bandoneón.

Armando de La Vega’s electric guitar was beautifully melodic in Milonga del Ángel, offered interesting riffs in Tres Minutos con la Realidad Soledad, and generally served more as a crucial harmonic component than as a rhythm instrument, owing to its relatively low volume level. At the opposite extreme, the double bass, played superbly by Daniel Valasca, is almost entirely dedicated to the rhythmic function, providing a nearly continuous pulse for the entire evening, sometimes bowed, sometimes plucked, and sometimes struck with hand or bow, to produce a startling array of sounds.

Nearly all the selections feature intricate counterpoint, dense and often dissonant harmonies, and complex rhythmic patterns. These characteristics reflect Piazzolla’s having studied not only with Ginastera, but also with classical pianist Bela Wilda, who introduced him to Bach’s music, and later with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Fast and slow passages typically alternated, with strong tango rhythms dominating except in the two milongas: the bouncy Milonga Loco and the richly melodic Milonga del Ángel.

The Quintet offered two encores: Thriller (originally written for a larger ensemble and arranged for quintet by Mainetti and music director Julián Vat) and Libertango.

Following three Florida concerts, the Quintet’s tour will take it to New York, NY (13 November), Minneapolis, MN (17 November), Chicago, IL (19 November), Boston, MA (20 November) & New Bedford, MA (21 November).

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