Tango Sensations (CD review)

Alban Berg Quartett. Warner Classics 5577782.

First, one has to understand, as the booklet points out, that there is the "old tango" and there is the "tango nuevo," the "new tango." This is important because it is the old tango music popularized in early twentieth-century Argentina that most people are probably most familiar with. The newer form is less like the dance music heard so commonly in old movies and more like modern concert music, made for performance in refined symphony halls rather than smoky bars and bordellos. Naturally, the Alban Berg Quartett, as refined and modern as they come, opt for the new tango for most of the present recording.

Leading the move in new tango was Argentine tango composer, arranger, and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), whom some in his country vilified for daring to modify their traditional music. Under Piazzolla, the tango became more stylized, more rhythmically variable, and certainly less danceable. Frankly, one can understand people's feelings; much of Piazzolla's work is hardly recognizable as tango in the traditional sense.

Alban Berg Quartett
Anyway, he's represented on the album by two longer works, the four-movement Tango Sensations, representing "Asleep," "Anxiety," "Awake," and "Fear," about twenty minutes long, and the sweetly melancholic Tristezas para un AA, about thirteen minutes long. Also in the modern mode is Kurt Schwertsik's Adieu Satie, a five-movement, new-tango reworking of melodies evoked by the spirit of French composer and pianist Erik Satie. Representing the old tango we find Eduardo Arolas, Juan Carlos Cobian, and Julio de Caro, each of whom gets a short work played on solo bandoneon.

The Alban Berg Quartet is augmented by Per Arne Glorvigen on bandoneon (an eighteenth-century German variation of the accordion that has become inextricably identified with the Argentine tango) and Alois Posch on double bass. Of course, the Quartet play these things with authority, elegance, and polish, but personally I still prefer the earthier qualities of the old tangos to the ultra sophistication of the more newfangled Piazzolla-type concoctions. Understanding what you're listening for, this is nevertheless a great disc of its kind.

EMI recorded the music in the early 2000's, and Warner Classics more recently rereleased it. The sonics communicate nicely through their clarity and tone, and the disc sounds especially realistic in the layout of the instruments.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa