This Naxos disc by the five-member Versus Ensemble contains a potpourri of seven different works by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. It includes many of his best known major works – the Milonga del ángel, Verano Porteño, Libertango, and Oblivion – plus five excerpts from his least known major work: his operetta Maria de Buenos Aires. Of the 11 tracks here, four feature either vocalist Enrique Moratalla or soprano María Rey-Joly, one features reciter Horacio Ferrer, and six are instrumentals.
The highlight of the Chandos disc is a real rarity, the 1953 Sinfonietta written as a fruit of Piazzolla’s studies with Ginastera prior to his trip to Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Vigorously rhythmic (as one might expect), the three spans are dramatic, sober and jubilant by turns, even if the melodies do lack the distinctive Piazzolla sound. It’s a well-constructed work, though, and Gabriel Castagna’s account is full of verve.
"Brilliantly capturing the essence of this true legend at this live gig recorded almost twenty years ago at the end of a 30 date european tour, they were fired up and ready for it."
Inspired by a general love of the tango, and more specifically the tango of Astor Piazzolla, on the part of Yo-Yo Ma, the Soul of the Tango album is a masterful work of the nuevo tango, played by Ma's cello and many of Piazzolla's former associates. Piazzolla's old guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad even showed up to work on a pair of tracks arranged by Sergio: the Tango Suite (consisting of Andante and Allegro). The sheer beauty of one of Piazzolla's tangos is generally enough to warrant the purchase of an album involving them. An album such as this one, where all of the songs (save one: Tango Remembrances, where Ma plays along with outtakes from Piazzolla's recording of The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night album) are compositions by Piazzolla is even better. Add to this the masterful playing of Ma, and the surprising facility in which the cello fits into the tango, and you've got what could become a classic album, if only it weren't on the classical label from Sony.
It's not hyperbole to say that Astor Piazzolla is the single most important figure in the history of tango, a towering giant whose shadow looms large over everything that preceded and followed him. Piazzolla's place in Argentina's greatest cultural export is roughly equivalent to that of Duke Ellington in jazz — the genius composer who took an earthy, sensual, even disreputable folk music and elevated it into a sophisticated form of high art.