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CD Review: Peter Soave and the Rucner Quartet
Tango Moods
Peter Soave, bandoneon
Joze Haluza & Josip Novosel, violins
Dragan Rucner, viola
Snjezana Rucner, cello

Program:

Adios Nonino
Five Tango Sensations

Asleep
Loving
Anxiety
Despertar
Fear
All compositions by Astor Piazzolla

total time: 33'43"
released: 1999
review date: December 1999

label: Jazzette BPCD042
Order from Peter Soave
email: peter@petersoave.com

Review by Dr. Paul A. Magistretti:

This new CD is wonderful - a brilliant addition to Astor Piazzolla's discography!

With the proliferation of performers attempting Piazzolla these days, new additions are not always a cause for celebration. Tango Moods is unqualifiedly passionate, powerful and deeply moving!

While the maestro's music is never less than intriguing he has in recent years become a commercial force with all the positive and negative consequences. CDs are stacking up in record stores, so that whatever has been recorded by him (no matter how technically poor or artistically flawed) appears. Caveat emptor. Furthermore, various and sundry artists are coming out of the woodwork doing his stuff, similar to the way pop artists cover hit tunes. We may one day hear Wayne Newton or Aerosmith doing Piazzolla's Greatest Hits.

So far, we can tolerate obvious commercialism and the intrusion of different solo instrumentation. It can even be interesting to hear familiar compositions skewed by virtue of different lead sonorities - flute, piano, guitar, violin, cello, etc. Yo-Yo Ma (Soul of the Tango) does a good job that almost belies the advice of his handlers: "Piazzolla is hot, Yo, jump in now!"

A real problem arises when interpreters who are neither tango divos nor musically equipped wander into Astor's sinewy, sensuous musical terra of noir and passion. Case in point - Daniel Baremboim's CD. While Baremboim is Argentinean, a fine classical pianist and a talented conductor, his feeling for the tango - despite liner notes proclaiming a norte˝o soul - is nowhere to be found in an hour of painful pedaling.

So, forays into Piazzolla can be tales of avarice, hubris or aesthetic amnesia, like when opera singers sing pop. Parenthetically, the wrong-headedness of operati doing pop may have incited Aretha Franklin to sing Nessun Dorma - count it an act of revenge. Vincerˇ, vincerˇ, vinnnceeerrrooˇ will never be the blues. Nor will Kiri Te Kanawa ever coalesce her lush, articulated sowwwnnndzzz with Jerome Kern's simple melodies without beating them to death-uh. Tales like this happen to Piazzolla all the time, because it's in keeping with errant fantasies, like great comics wanting to play Hamlet.

In terms of aesthetics and morals, Peter Soave has the soul, the fire, the passion, the gift and let me be perfectly clear, the absolute right to do Piazzolla. He rocks.

The first cut, Adios Nonino, was composed by Piazzolla upon the occasion of his father's death. The music is always poignant. I've heard it played many times, including numerous versions by Piazzolla himself. Soave and the Rucner Quartet give it a plaintive performance - not quite the heartbreak I've heard, but nevertheless good. It has a meditative quality and I was glad to experience it with strings alone as opposed to the usual tango ensemble. That said, the Quartet seemed to dominate and the bandoneon was a little tentative. A good beginning, but it didn't blow me away.

However, Adios Nonino is only a curtain raiser. The heart of this CD is all about Piazzolla's evocative tango suite, Five Tango Sensations. This performance of the work is stunning! The suite is comprised of five distinct moods: Asleep, Loving, Anxiety, Despertar (awakening, reviving) and Fear.

This work was originally written for the Kronos Quartet and recorded with Piazzolla playing the bandoneon in 1990. I've owned and listened to the CD off and on for years. While the Kronos version is interesting and I was glad to have it, it always left me unmoved. It seemed cool, aloof, academic - as if Kronos was giving a fine reading, but nothing heartfelt. Okay, I began to think that was all the piece offered - an intriguing exercise, an ironic failure, a waste of big guns.

I hypothesized that Kronos' previous involvement with Piazzolla, Four for Tango, was successful and success had committed everyone to a sequel. Of course, by 1990 the Piazzolla phenomenon was heating up, so they would have had to have gotten together, added his bandoneon and done something. Whatever the reason, I always felt distanced and surprisingly unmoved by Piazzolla's playing.

Don't get me wrong, the performance is technically good, but somehow stiff, detached and cool to the point of making me think of his Doble A's Germanic origins rather than unbridled passion. Because of the lack of heat I developed a theory that his performance was dubbed - Kronos did its thing and sent the tapes to Astor who put on a headset and did his. True or not, the record has a disembodied effect - like Sinatra's Duets where the performers never met. Piazzolla was certainly an experienced performer/composer/movie scorer who worked under all kinds of circumstances, but he's always at his best in real time/live performances, either concerts or studio sessions where everyone is right there bouncing off each other. To my mind his best recording remains Tango Zero Hour with select live concert recordings a close second (he himself remarked on this).

So, having addressed the ur-performance of Five Tango Sensations let me say that Peter Soave and the Rucner Quartet have delivered a definitive, heated and live rendering of the suite. Peter exceeds Piazzolla in feeling and passion. If you doubt, comparisons can be made by listening to the solo moments of Asleep and Despertar. A & B them and hear that while Piazzolla has precision in all the right places, his runs and staccati seem cold and abrupt. Soave's playing on the other hand is fluid, warm and filled with emotion. Maybe Piazzolla's concept was to intrude stops and tears in the fabric - but the effect is intellectual and off-putting, an unwanted entfremdung (alienation) effect analogous to Brecht's theorized but rarely believed concept of drama.

There is neither intentional nor unintentional alienation in Soave's playing or the Rucner Quartet's interplay. Each time I listen I feel involved in the various movements as if I was ingesting them in my soul. Furthermore, complex and ever changing stories unfold in my imagination. I can't help but believe Piazzolla wanted to create exactly this kind of transfiguring and riveting experience - the very qualities which the Soave/Rucner performance deliver. By itself the Rucner Quartet is more intense, passionate and unbridled than Kronos - which by contrast seems to be playing Handel. And while there is nothing wrong with their musicianship or Handel, it's a long, long way from George I to Piazzolla, as Weill might have had Lenya sing!

Apart from being a remarkable recording, this CD by Peter Soave is an auspicious beginning. A colpa, he has become a world-class bandoneon player without qualification; living proof that a choice of instruments is always less important than the talent and soul of an artist. The world's slowness in appreciating this profundity relative to free reed instruments always amazes those of us fortunate enough to understand.

The CD booklet notes are in Croatian and English.

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