The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Stefan Hussong
Tango Fantasy


Astor Piazzolla: Libertango
Igor Stravinsky: Tango (1918)
Igor Stravinsky: Tango (1940)
Stefan Wolpe: Tango
Isaac Albeniz: Tango
P. Antonio Soler: Sonata No. 45 in G Major
P. Antonio Soler: Sonata No. 47 in Dorian Mode
P. Antonio Soler: Sonata No. 62 in C Major
Jukka Tiensuu: Fantango
Uros Rojko: Alien-Tango
John Cage: Perpetual Tango
Erik Satie: La Tango perpetuel
Maki Ishii: Tango Prism, Op. 73
Lothar Klein: Essercizi
Astor Piazzolla: S.V.P. (s'il vous plait)

total time: 59'07"
released: 1996
review date: March 1999

label: Denon Records CO-78841
Attn: Jill Noe
3343 Peachtree Rd. NE
Suite 333
Atlanta, GA 30326
phone: 404.240.2940

Review by Thomas Fabinski:

Beware - this isn't your Mother's LaCumparsita!

Writes Hussong, "What I was hoping to do when making this recording was to explore the energy latent within the tango in its original form (the Argentinian tango) and to look into how this primeval energy has been reflected in the field of so-called serious music."

Hussong takes us on a solo tango tour starting in Argentina and through Russia, Germany, Spain, Finland, Slovenia, America, France, Japan, Canada and returns us, s'il vous plait, to the Argentinian master. Along the way, Hussong makes a detour to visit the Catalan composer, P. Antonio Soler. While not technically in tango form, as the liner notes point out, "the light Latin feel of these sonatas well suits them for inclusion on this disc."

On "Libertango," the stereo separation plus the counter-point and counter melodies gives the sense of two musicians performing. This makes a rousing and exciting introduction to our tour. The two Stravinsky tangos are from 1918 and 1940. The tango from 1916 is probably more typically Stravinsky in its unusual harmonies. The tango from 1940 is surprisingly accessible and pleasing to the ear with some nice, jazzy harmonic progressions. The 1927 piece by Wolpe, an American of German descent, displays the rhythmic foundation of the tango in "an overtly contemporary idiom." One senses the groundwork being laid for Piazzolla.

A sweet, slow, gentle and graceful tango dated 1890 from the late nineteenth century composer and pianist, Isaac Albeniz follows. Although stylistically "perhaps closer to the habanera," as Jiro Hamada points out in the lucid and helpful liner notes, "Albeniz's distinctive harmonic style is evident in the shadow of the piece's effortless lyricism."

The three selections by Soler, who studied with Domenico Scarlatti, are originally harpsichord sonatas. Dating from the last half of the 18th Century, they obviously pre-date the arrival of the tango in Argentina and Uruguay in the latter half of the 19th Century. Since the tango is a marriage of Argentininan folk music and music from Spain, Italy and the Caribbean, I believe that it may not be too much of a stretch of the imagination to find a connection between Soler and the tango. And while the obviously tango tracks are wonderful, in a curious way, these three sonatas alone justify the purchase of this CD in my mind. Maybe it's just what hearing a harpsichord sonata performed on an accordion does, but crank up the volume on the first sonata and tell me you didn't feel like dancing!

A 1984 tango from the Finnish composer, pianist and harpsichordist (!) Tiensuu is next. The title, "Fantango," combines the words "fantasy" and "tango." "Acerbic discords are combined in a richly imaginative vein with the rhythmic and melodic idioms of the tango." Colorful explosions of chords add fire and drama to the melody. The Slovenian composer, Uros Rojko, adds his 1994 Tango which Hussong has renamed "Alien-TANGO." "Although based on the distinctive rhythms of the tango, it is conceived in a thoroughly modern and fantastic idiom." This piece is distinguished by wide dynamic, tempo and volume variations. In 1984 John Cage "re-arranged" Satie's Tango from 1914. Cage's score is reproduced in the notes. (But be warned, the score is an enigma!) The source Tango by Satie follows and flows seamlessly from the Cage version.

Maki Ishii wrote his "Tango Prism" for the Japanese accordionist Mie Miki in 1987. Ishii "re-arranges two tango classics, LaCumparsita and Jalousie, with wit and poetry." To those who say the tango is best performed on a bandoneon, this piece says the tango is more than just about the bandoneon. The tango appeals to composers the world over. The results of this cross-pollination are indeed a new tango. Lothar Klein's 1980, "Essercizi," is dedicated to Joseph Macerollo (one of Hussong's teachers.) This exercise is a form of homage to Scarlatti since Scarlatti called hs sonatas exercises. Toward the middle of the piece, the music becomes a mirror image (or retrograde) of the first half. It doesn't sound any more backwards than the first half! Piazzolla's "s'il vous plait" completes Hussong's world tour of the tango. It is as if one has returned home from a tour of the strange and wonderful; returned home to the warmth and fire of Astor's tango knowing that the tango has forever changed the history of music.

For some reason, it seems to me that the contemporary classical accordionist, unlike other instrumentalists, must be able to demonstrate virtuosic facility with extremes of musical styles. Mind you, I'm not complaining because one of the results is a rich palette of sounds such as this CD offers. Perhaps, though it's not so much an issue of having to prove the capabilities of the instrument and the musician as it is a case of the musician being thrilled with the potential of the accordion to go everywhere and to explore and conquer new musical panorama. In one wonderful recording Hussong shows the world the tonal range and musical possibility of the accordion with the Tango as his vehicle.

This recording gives Hussong the opportunity to display his instrument and musicianship. Like the Tango and love itself, this recording is at different times fiery, passionate, lyrical, driving, pensive and melancholic. (You can't say that about the minuet!) Hussong shows us that the spirit of the tango has reached every corner of the globe and continues to capture the hearts and minds of composers and listeners everywhere.

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