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Tango Goes Symphony
A popular song of the 1950s, guyed brilliantly by Hermione Gingold and Gilbert Harding, suggestively invited us to "
do the tango
the dance of love." The tango has always retained its image of a dance unashamedly sexual in character and such indeed was its origin. Cultivated in the slums and initially repudiated by the upper classes of Argentina, time and changing fashion had altered it to win the approval of its former detractors.
The origin of the word tango remains debatable. The Argentinian writer Eros Nicola Siri suggests, with some probability, that it was of African origin, from tangano, a Negro dance transplanted to central and southern America in the eighteenth century by slaves working on the Cuban and Haitian plantations. Another writer derives it from the old Spanish word taño (from tañer, to play an instrument). Whatever the derivation of the word, however, all authorities now agree that by the 1850s Cuban tangos and habaneras were already in common currency throughout Latin America. Nearer to our own time, the tango was to become the most popular of all Argentine urban dances.
The modern tango supposedly developed in the poorer dockland districts of Buenos Aires, where after 1870 large numbers of European immigrants had settled. They introduced music from their own culture which, combined with and sanitised by certain gaucho traditions, resulted in what the pre-war books on ballroom dancing refer to as "the Argentine Tango". The earliest tango, however, was actually an aggressive, even violent dance, purporting to portray knife fights and acts of a sexual nature, generally accompanied by the violin, guitar and flute. Increasingly, however, the accordion replaced the guitar in the tango and before long its enormous popularity in Argentina resulted in larger groups being formed to play it. Of these the composer-bandleader Vicente Greco (1889-1924) was reputedly the first to standardise a typical tango ensemble, with which he recorded as early as 1911.
The tango spread throughout Europe after its introduction to Parisian society by Camille de Rhynal, a dance teacher who in 1907 rounded off the rough edges and jerky movements of an original hitherto always considered too coarse for the ballroom. George Grossmith and Phyllis Dare danced it in London in 1912 in The Sunshine Girl at the Gaiety Theatre and the exhibition dancers Vernon and Irene Castle popularised it in the United States from about 1913. By the end of the First World War it was very much in vogue, and certainly it was at its height in Great Britain in the early 1920s. The decline of ballroom dancing in the 1950s inevitably meant that the tango lost a great deal of its popularity in Europe and the United States. In Argentina, however, it has retained its position as the national dance and as such has continued to hold an important place in the affections of the composers of that country.
The present release offers fourteen tango arrangements by the Slovak composer and pianist Peter Breiner. The opening El choclo, a classic tango by Angel Villoldo, was popularised as a song in 1952 called Kiss of Fire, a hit for Georgia Gibbs in the United States as well as a best seller for the redoubtable Anne Shelton in Great Britain. The piano takes up the tune first, followed first by the flute and then the accordion, before a swing rhythm, with the strings alternating the tune with the piano, while the flute plays exquisite counter melodies. A witty allusion to The Barber of Seville precedes the final statement of the tune showing the similarity between the two melodies.
A solo cadenza for flute opens the arrangement of La cumparsita, surely one of the most famous tangos in the world. Composed by Gerardo Rodriguez in 1917, this was famously recorded in a vocal version by Tito Schipa in 1930. In the present arrangement the flute plays a series of variations on the tune, before the last chorus brings in some delightfully liquid trumpet improvisations.
Peter Breiner himself contributes a lovely plaintive number, Miss Mendacity, which features a sensitive central chorus for the accordion, followed by a beautiful warm finish for the strings. As with most tangos, this is effected in a minor key. By contrast with this, and belying its title, Nostalgico is a fairly energetic tango, nostalgic perhaps for the days when the tango had a much wilder character.
For many authorities the twentieth century master of the tango was Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). It is fitting, then, that no fewer than three of his tangos should be included. Piazzolla studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) but she advised him simply to write according to his instinct, aware of the originality of his unique style. Adios, Nonino, originally written for solo guitar, here belies its origins with a most colourful arrangement highlighting trumpet and piano. Oblivion (1984), on the other hand, was originally scored for oboe and orchestra. Here Sefika Kutluer proves that what was intended for oboe works equally well on flute. Indeed, throughout the entire album her richly rounded tone falls beautifully upon the ear. The third of our Piazzolla tangos, Lo que vendra (1957), began life as a piano piece. Here there is a decidedly jazz-inspired section for the piano, bass and drums, with the strings gently sounding the harmonies in the background before the flute slows things down again to a quiet ending.
La milonga y yo is particularly notable for the straight rhythms in which the middle section is played, while the trumpet adorns the melody with some lovely ornamentation. Lagrimas y sonrisas is a decidedly unusual tango opening gently as if at the break of dawn before turning to triple metre and revealing itself to be a most wistful tango-waltz. Following a piano introduction, the flute plays the tune as the tango rhythm works its magic on So In Love, one of the most seductive tunes by Cole Porter (1891-1964), for his 1948 show Kiss Me, Kate.
In 1926, the Danish-born Jacob Gade (1879-1963) wrote Jealousy, one of the most commercially popular tangos of all time. Famously recorded at Fiedlers own insistence at the Boston Pops very first session in 1935, it subsequently became a popular hit in the United States in May 1938, and the first RCA Red Seal recording of a light-orchestral piece to sell a million copies. In the present arrangement the solo flute introduces a variant of the original introduction, before the orchestra comes in to accompany the flute playing the first theme. The sections of the chorus are played alternately by trombone and flute before an echo of the first theme ends this original treatment.
By contrast with the two preceding items, Orlando Goni is a much more straightforward affair altogether and very upbeat. Following this, shimmering strings introduce Nobleza de Arrabal, a tango by Francisco Canaro, who ran a world-famous orchestra from the 1920s onwards in Buenos Aires, probably the best known of all such Argentinian ensembles. The final tango, Melancolico, is anything but melancholy, although it starts with a quotation from J.S Bachs Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This cleverly leads us into the tango itself. The strings lead us into a short fugal passage, interrupted by the flute, though the strings soon return. All stops for the pianos melancholy solo, after which the strings take the lead before the flute resumes the tango. All is finally reconciled in the gentle twilight of the last chorus, ending Peter Breiners skilful arrangements of these lovely melodies, a tango album for the twenty-first century.
Guy W. Rowland
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TANGO GOES SYMPHONY