The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Che Bandoneón: Tango
total time: 55:35
label: ALISO 1020
Order from: Herr Reinhard Muller
Prof. René Marino Rivero
René Marino Rivero, bandoneon
Review by Gregory A. Vozar:
In the world of Tango and the bandoneon, René Marino Rivero is a maverick of sorts, but certainly a brilliant one. Every piece he plays is awash in color and daubed with his deeply personal inspiration. I like to think of him as the Cézanne of the bandoneon. There is a quality and style to his 'brushwork' that makes his vision and tonal painting unique. Of course, that uniqueness does not necessarily appeal to the taste of every listener. I recently brought a lively dinner conversation to a complete halt by asking a group of erudite and respected South American musicians (specifically a fellow Uruguayan bandoneonist) their opinions of Rivero. There was a long and delicate silence while these men tried to politely phrase their replies! I respect those opinions, for as professionals they have had a lengthier involvement and deeper commitment to Tango than I. Nevertheless, my ears and guts tell me something exciting is happening when René Marino Rivero picks up his instrument.
Within the Uruguayan tradition of playing dance music on the bandoneon, one may distinguish at least three distinct levels of stylistic rendering. Each of these suits a particular mode of artistic interpretation. The strictest is the danza bailable, or in the permissive tautology of Spanish, the 'danceable dance.' Here, measured rhythms are often accented with marcato chords: the buzzing, snapping golpe or 'blow' so characteristic of the bandoneon in Argentine Tango. There is the slightly freer danza canción in which the bandoneonist accompanies a singer; here the instrumental part must remain more unobtrusive and support the delivery of words and melody by another. The last traditional form is the pure danza, a concert version of the dance tune where the solo artist is unfettered by rhythmic protocol of dancers or the necessities of accompaniment. It is here the bandoneonist's fancy is free to roam and wander, yet always within prescribed limits. The interpretative freedom of the danza pura never quite reaches that of American jazz.
Rivero's performances of traditional tangos on Che Bandoneón are anything but traditional. As may be imagined from my introductory paragraphs, he invokes the danza format of interpretation here, but the results are pure 'Riverismo.' Comparisons with Astor Piazzolla are inevitable, but the music these two gentlemen wrote and played is so different that it is difficult to find much common ground between them. Piazzolla was master of the deep, poetic ramble (I do not mean this in a pejorative sense); he made brilliant use of the dance rhythms inherent in the tango and milonga, creating in the process highly specialized concert music. In contrast, when I listen to Marino Rivero play the bandoneon, nouns like 'extract,' 'abstract' and 'construct' press outward from the center of my imagination. His interpretations are much more cerebral and almost flighty compared to Piazzolla's foot-in-the-guts presence, but I do not find them lacking in artistic mettle or depth. Rivero seeks to liberate the traditional from the cliché, and at times he will accomplish this by the simplest of expedients: adding an extra note to a chord. At other times he will so heavily ornament the melody that it almost disappears amidst cascades of notes. It is this kind of license that may alientate him from traditionalists. No matter how far he may wander from tradition, his roots are firmly entrenched in the Uruguayan soil of Tacuarembó, the province of his birth.
So, what are Bach fugues doing on a Tango album? I believe that Rivero included them because were he to record an album of totally Baroque music on the bandoneon, it would have an almost negligible market and reach few listeners. I believe he wants the world to see the extended capabilities of his instrument and to show that it is capable of legitimate concert music. It was, after all, used in Germany in the 19th century as a substitute for an organ in parish churches too poor to install one. Therefore, after listening to a classic tango like La Cumparsita and Piazzolla's Adios Nonino, we are treated to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor!
I will admit I was skeptical when I learned that Rivero recorded this of all pieces. Its opening bars are probably the most recognizable piece of music in the Baroque organ repertoire and hardly suitable for a bandoneon... or so I thought. (I only admit these words because I am about to eat them.) Amazing as it may seem, Rivero plays this rhapsodic composition with all the notes (some transposition is inevitable) and imbues it with genuine dignity. This comment also applies the two other Preludes and Fugues by J. S. Bach on the CD. In general, I do not care for the reduction in size, volume and artistic sensibility that occurs when large-scale organ works are played on smaller free-reed instruments, but this time it genuinely works. His bellows work is nothing less than miraculous and the transition of fugal voices from one keyboard to the other is seamless, in spite of the different timbres of the right and left hand manuals.
I must mention what a tour de force these pieces are on the bandoneon. As with several other types of concertina, the position of the notes on the keyboards change depending on whether the player is opening or closing the bellows. Almost all the notes are available in each direction, but their positions shift, often radically! It is absolutely necessary for the performer to plan the entire piece, including the bellows motion, very carefully at the outset. When managing the intricacies of an extended polyphonic fugue, a musician cannot afford any flub that might cause him or her to run out of air early! One solution might be to learn the composition completely in either bellows direction and be able make that transition at any point in the performance (a daunting task) or simply be so secure technically as to not have to worry about such exigencies. Marino Rivero is that secure.
Rivero has included several of his own compositions on this CD: Introducción y Danza No.'s 1 & 2 and Tres Tangos Nostalgicos para Marianne von Allman. While called 'dance' and 'tango,' these are purely abstract music; dance rhythms appear only sporadically, floating sonorously to the surface, only to disappear beneath the waves of the composition again. These are indubitably South American, specifically Uruguayan, in inspiration and origin. Rivero always seems to draw upon his ethnic roots when creating his own art. Close listening will also reveal structural elements that at first seem invisible.
In some ways this is a difficult compact disk to review because it seems to have so many purposes; it presents traditional tangos, Bach preludes & fugues and contemporary concert compositions all sandwiched onto one recording. There is undeniably a bit of culture shock in that combination. The thread that binds these loosely together is the talent of the performer and composer, René Marino Rivero. I admire his insistence that the bandoneon is a valid vehicle for concert music, however, I would have preferred to hear him in slightly less 'live' surroundings. The studio ambiance on this recording is what one would find in a large stone church. There must be a full four seconds of reverberation, more than enough of an echo to 'paper over the cracks,' as it were. While this makes the bandoneon sound very bold and organ-like, it can also be confusing to the ear. For me, this detracts somewhat from the music.
Possessing qualities both original and eclectic, I would recommend this compact disk to readers. Unfortunately, all my efforts at acquiring a copy from the record company were fruitless! Without Ramon Khalona's friend, Lionel Tacchini, scouring every telephone book in Germany for Ulrich Fild's name, we could not offer this to readers. My thanks also to Henry Doktorski for providing Professor Rivero's address in Montevideo. This recording is currently available and in print from German sources.
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