Prom 70: Tango

“A celebration of the heady, sexually charged Latin American tango, from its origins in the bars of 1880s Buenos Aires, through to Ástor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango that emerged in the 1950s. The story also embraces the Finnish tango tradition of the early 20th century – steeped in the themes of love, sorrow and nature – and comes bang up to date with some of the latest tango music. Showcasing Grammy Award-winning pianist Pablo Ziegler along with leading singers, dancers and instrumentalists from Europe, the USA and Argentina, the raw and earthy vitality of the tango is explored, from the sultry intimacy of the bandoneon to the big-band orchestral forces of the Britten Sinfonia.” [BBC Proms website]

Helena Juntunen (soprano) & Nahuel di Pierro (bass)

Pablo Ziegler (piano), Matías González, Lysandre Donoso & Hector Del Curto (bandoneóns),Claudio Ragazzi (guitar), Pedro Giraudo (double bass), Franco Pinna (drums)

Seppo Kantonen (piano), Veli Kujala (accordion), Lauri Porra (bass guitar) & Anssi Nykänen (drums & percussion)

Vincent Simone & Flavia Cacace (dancers)

Britten Sinfonia
Clark Rundell

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 4 September, 2018
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

BBC Proms 2018: Tango PromPhotograph: Sarah Jeynes / BBCThis was the Proms first foray into Tango and was launched by Katie Derham rocking a voluminous androgynous black-and-white Pierrot satin trouser suit – the antithesis of Tango attire. An ominous start! She informed us, second-guessing (or trying to influence) our own opinions, that this would be a “real feast”.

First up was ‘Sur’, all swooning strings and staccato beats performed by the silver fox Nahuel di Pierro whose lustrous bass comfortably (if amplified) filled the cavern. Then ‘Mano a Mano’, a sonorous glide of lavish solemnity, and ‘El Motivo’ starred the ballroom dancers Vincent and Flavia, the latter glittering in crimson-red sequins as she draped herself about the stage as Nahuel crooned in a bordello Dean Martin style.

And then the composer we had all waited for, Piazzolla, ‘La Mufa’ arranged in a John Adams-Sergio Leone manner, with trademark beat and a cinematic quality!

BBC Proms 2018: Tango PromPhotograph: Sarah Jeynes / BBCAfter the master Piazzolla came ‘Valse triste Tango’ (owing to Sibelius) with a huge brass section, electric guitar, a bombastic Tijuana sound and a soprano outburst from Helena Juntunen, Finland’s Dusty Springfield/Eva Peron, who segued into a slew of Finnish songs. She delivered a punchier, more carnal, Tango feel. Odd! The standout was ‘Satumaa’ because of the accordionist Veli Kujala’s jaw-dropping contribution. Discordant Finnish Tango continued – slow, slow, quick, slow – Helena spun jazz Cleo Laine-style followed by fierce Ginger Baker drumming from Anssi Nykanen.

Vincent and Flavia wrapped in iron-grey sequins strutted back centre-stage for David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ tangoed up, and the platform was under the glare of very bright lighting. Piazzolla must have been spinning in his grave!

At last, Piazzolla’s ‘Libertango’ swept before us, as did the dancers again, Flavia now in a royal-blue skirt and sequined top, Tango immaculately performed and followed by Piazzolla’s pianist Pablo Ziegler’s arrangements if ending with a rather anaemic version of ‘La Cumparsita’.

Tango is sexy and muscular but its pulsing heartbeat and nostalgie de la boue was smoothed-out here in these flat-lining arrangements set in too grand a venue.

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