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The Sound of Tango

Classical Review

Oct. 9, 2008
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There was an exciting revelation at Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last weekend: the bandoneon featured in a concerto by the Argentinian master of the tango, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Piazzolla's tangos show up regularly in diverse contexts. His concert works are still rarely programmed.

The bandoneon, a keyless, button-operated accordion, is the distinctive sound of the tango. Daniel Binelli performed the Concierto para Bandoneon y Orquesta (1979) with such expert style that any tonal or dynamic limitations of the instrument were completely disguised. Poetic solos contrasted with relentless rhythm or jazz-like riffs. This sensual music-a potent mix of populism and sophistication-hits you in the gut; you feel your body responding. Great stuff.

Andreas Delfs also conducted the 72-minute Missa Latina by Roberto Sierra, composer in residence at MSO 1989-1992. Sections of it are beautiful and engaging, with colorful textures and melodies. It is best in its brighter movements, such as the Gloria and most of the Sanctus. Deliberate eclecticism emerges, combining various styles of the 20th century with occasional Caribbean rhythms.

The overall impression is a parade of disparate events, many of them overwritten. Sierra lingers far too long over far too many ideas. The text of the mass feels stalled, rather than moving forward. The choral writing is idiomatic, and was flattering to the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. The soloists are worked very hard, used inefficiently and too often. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy's clear light voice made the constantly high lines more elegant than they are.

Earlier in the week I caught the first Frankly Music concert of the season at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The program of two Beethoven piano trios (Op. 70 and Op. 97 "Archduke") was, among other things, a chance to hear the 1715 Stradivari violin that recently came to Frank Almond. The instrument is capable of amazing sounds, high and low. Any violinist needs a chance to adjust to a new instrument. The combination of Almond and this distinguished violin carries the promise of rich and remarkable music-making ahead. The soulful performance of the Archduke trio third movement stuck with me for days after.


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