Nostalgias Argentinas (CD review)

Piano music of Argentina. Mirian Conti, piano. Steinway & Sons 30010.

Argentine/American pianist Mirian Conti writes in a booklet note that “Nostalgia is a yearning for the past, be it in time or place--an aching to return home. Feelings of nostalgia are brought on by remembrances: images, smells, touch, music. For me, this recording brings with it nostalgia for my own musical past, for those Argentine composers lost or forgotten on the shelves of libraries, conservatories, and old pianos.”

She continues, “The 1920s represented a time of new musical tendencies in Europe and America. This was no less evident in Argentina where the continuous search for a national voice encountered many styles of expression. All of the music here, whether the musical language is romantic or modern, angular in its polytonality and accents or luscious in its impressionist mood, are without a doubt Argentine. They represent the many faces of classical Argentine solo piano music spanning from the 1920s to today. The composers were born between the 1880s and the 1930s and many of the pieces are based on either folk or popular dances.”

Fair enough. So, Ms. Conti waxes nostalgic for the music of her Argentine homeland, offering in the disc’s program over two dozen examples of dances from eleven different Argentine composers. The interesting thing, though, is that only two of the dances on the program actually date from the 1920s, the others written between 1947 and 2010. Nevertheless, they all look back to the Twenties for their roots, their inspiration, the “nostalgic” angle to which Ms. Conti refers. The works vary in style and tone, Ms. Conti’s piano playing is heartfelt, and the listening experience is a pleasure.

The album begins with Remo Pignoni’s Danzas tradicionales para piano, two traditional dances for piano. The first dance, “Por el sur,” is vibrant, and the second, “Como queriendo,” is Debussy-like in its sweet, Romantic impressionism. Ms. Conti plays the pieces with a conviction obviously drawn of love for this music. Her style is sublimely confident and polished, vaguely old fashioned yet contemporaneously appealing.

Next we hear a brief piece from Emilio Balcare, “La bordona,” a slow, sensual tango, which Ms. Conti performs as though there were three or four separate people involved in a small ensemble. The melodies and harmonies are infectious.

Horacio Salgan’s “Don Agustin Bardi” follows, a tango that sounds the opposite in style from the preceding one, Salgan’s being more pulsating, more vibrantly rhythmic. As we might expect by now, Ms. Conti attacks it with a wonderfully spirited vigor.

Then we get the centerpiece of the album, Carlos Guastavino’s 10 cantos populares, ten popular poems, as the name implies dances that are lyrical, songlike. Guastavino believed in the value of older musical traditions, admiring Chopin, Schubert, and Rachmaninov, so expect an older Romanticism at play here. He felt more-modern composers were destroying music, and when you listen to his compositions, it’s hard to argue with him. They are beautiful, especially given the loving attention Ms. Conti lavishes on them. Each piece shimmers like a tiny jewel, “No. 4” truly exquisite.

And so it goes through works by Carlos Lopez Buchardo, Floro Meliton Ugarte, Gilardo Gilardi, Mario Broeders, Osmar Maderna, and Julian Plaza. I could describe each of them, but I think you get the idea. Still, the composer I should emphasize before closing is Mario Broeders, whose work reflects a gentle, captivating melancholy. “Val criollo no. 3” is particularly lovely.

The album ends with a fast number, Julian Plaza’s “Nocturna,” a fine show closer and another excellent piece for Ms. Conti to demonstrate her sympathetic virtuosity on the piano.

Steinway & Sons recorded the album in 2012 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia. The piano sound is gloriously rich and resonant, a single instrument practically duplicating a whole orchestra. The acoustic is just reverberant enough and the miking just close enough to produce a lifelike response with plenty of warmth and bite at the same time.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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