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CD Review: From Bach to La Cumparsita: NUEVO TANGO

René Marino Rivero, bandoneon & Gabriela Diaz, guitar


Concerto in F Minor - J. S. Bach Allegro Largo Allegro
La Cumparsita - tango (Rodriguez)
Taquito militar - milonga (Torres)
café 1930 - tango (Piazzolla)
Volver - tango (Gardel)
El Choclo - tango milonga (Villodo)
La Puñalada - milonga (Castellanos)
Diferencias sobre Guardame las Vacas (Narvaez)
Baile de los Morenos - candombe (Gavioli)
A Horacio Salgán - tango (Pedroza)
El dia que me Quieras - tango (Gardel)
El Fuego de tu Amor - tango (Rivero/Racciatti)
Vamos Corazón - tango (Cerviño/Moller)
Mariñaque - milonga (Maestra)

total time: 58:31
released: 1996

label: Eucalyptus NTCD01
Contact: Conrado Beckermann & Assoc.,
BOX 344342, Station D,
Vancouver, B. C.,
Canada V6J 4W4
Fax: (604) 731-6775

Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

As soon as prospective listeners open this jewel case, they will receive a somewhat prophetic impression of Nuevo Tango by René Marino Rivero and his guitarist protégée, Gabriela Diaz. What will greet their eyes is the amusing sketch of South America on the non-playing side of the compact disk. I call it amusing because it shows that continent upside-down, which is a uniquely southern perspective! The tip of Tierra del Fuego, the Southern Cross and the words "Polo S" are positioned at the very top of the drawing, the "ecuador" or equator at the bottom. Latitude and longitude coordinates, accompanied by a + sign, appear to designate the city of Tacuarembó, Rivero's birthplace in northern Uruguay.

Those familiar with Marino Rivero's work should not be surprised at this topsy-turvy world scheme, for he seems to delight in presenting us with unusual perspectives! So much so that listeners seem divided into camps as distant as the terrestrial poles when it comes to his interpretations of music from the Rio de la Plata region. His readings of tangos and milongas are highly personal affairs. They generally lack the rhythmic pulse necessary to accompany dancers, yet are filled with intricate and innovative melodic variation and built upon his unique understanding of their harmony and structure. Like a magnet, his music seems to either attract or repel a Tango audience; it rarely engenders indifference. There is one thing, however, upon which nearly all agree: Rivero, the technician, is one of the finest bandoneonists in the world today.

A virtuoso performer with dexterity that astonishes, Rivero has realized the potential of the bandoneón to an unusual degree, successfully demonstrating that what has long been considered a folk instrument is capable of rendering the subtleties of concert music. Here he surpasses most, if not all, his contemporaries, except, perhaps, his teacher Alejandro Barletta. In his own compositions he exploits the unique timbre of his instrument in ways that composers before him did not. (Here, I must mention that as mentor he passed on his expertise to his superbly talented pupil, Hugo Diaz, who very recently died in Montevideo. Diaz' tragic death at only fifty-one years of age leaves the Tango world in shock and grieving.)

The program of this disk is the grab-bag of assorted tidbits one comes to expect from Marino Rivero. While it is entitled Nuevo Tango, it bears the subtitle: "from Bach to La Cumparsita." This will give an indication of the cultural and musicological gap the musicians endeavor to bridge! The first offering is indeed a Concerto by J. S. Bach. The most commonly heard version is for harpsichord and orchestra, but the music has been arranged here for bandoneón and guitar. Our duo offers up a believable and even stylish performance of this Baroque piece; their contrasting reed and string textures complement one another very well. The second movement, even though slower than I would prefer to hear it, is especially well-played. Rivero's bandoneón traces the meandering, cantabile treble line with the expertise of a calligrapher inscribing a flourish.

From the 18th Century we leap to the 20th and series of tangos and milongas starting with "La Cumparsita." Here (and this applies to all the South American dances on this recording), Rivero and Diaz deconstruct the pieces harmonically and rhythmically, reassembling them by weaving loose strands of melody back and forth between their respective instruments. At first these tangos seem strangely disembodied, in part because they lack the insistent, heart-pounding rhythm that is a hallmark of the genre. However, after one's ear becomes accustomed to this innovation, listeners will begin to hear deeper aspects of the performance. Improvisation by both artists lends a sense of invention and fluidity to their musical ideal. At times they are capable of great subtlety in their explorations.

Another piece on this disk that deserves mention is the Diferencias sobre "Guardame la Vacas" by Narvaez. This is a set of variations on a tune that was popular in Renaissance Spain. I was amazed to hear how well the tone of the bandoneón adapts to music of such antiquity. Its edgy sonority is not all that far removed from the old organs of the Iberian peninsula with their panoply of incisive reed stops. While I cut my musical teeth in the Early Music "authentic performance" school, I will admit that the bandoneon (in knowledgeable hands) is capable of interpreting this music in a style in keeping with the period in which it was written.

There is little in the way of a booklet accompanying this CD. The simple insert bears the artwork, program list and credits; the back cover carries a photo of the artists (this is appreciated) and a rather difficult and lengthy observation by Prof. Dr. Dr. b. c. Kurt Pahlen [sic] of Switzerland. His comma impregnated remarks are dense, parenthetical and digressive to the point of incomprehensibility, and I am still trying to make out whether calling Rivero and Diaz "two perfect musicians in mutual unequaled comprehension" works out to a compliment!

This disk is certainly to be recommended to fans of René Marino Rivero as it bears his unique style and character. On the other hand, tangueros who are looking for a disk to pop in the player in order to dance had better look elsewhere for a sturdier and surer rhythm. These dances are interpretative tango, i.e., tango for the mind rather than the feet. I enjoy their both their familiarity and their peculiarity. However, when all is said and done, I believe the best works on this compact disk are the Bach and Narvaez, for it is there that Rivero takes us into new territory for his instrument. Based on the sporadic recordings he has already made, I hope he will considering record an entire album of classical music for bandoneon solo or bandoneon with chamber orchestra for the simple fact that he is one of the few that can!

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