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Astor Piazzolla In Portrait

Piazolla / Barenboim / Burton / Kronos Quartet
Release Date: 02/22/2005 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 905  
Composer:  Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Astor Piazzolla
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Exploring Piazzolla’s vibrant musical influence around the world, this DVD charts the events of his turbulent, complicated personal and professional life through candid and revealing interviews with Piazzolla himself, his family, friends and the great Argentinian musicians who performed with him.

The extended (106 mins) DVD version of Mike Dibb’s new film TANGO MAESTRO includes: Rare and exhilarating archive sequences spanning 30 years of filmed performances by Piazzolla’s own groups.

Contributions from other virtuoso performers drawn to his music, including Daniel Barenboim - a fellow student of Nadia Boulanger, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton, the Kronos Quartet, the Paris-based Gotan Project,
Read more the Tango Pasión dance company, British pianist Joanna MacGregor, Scottish accordeonist James Crabb, and Astor’s close friend Richard Galliano, the French accordeonist and bandoneon player.

Sequences from award-winning director Fernando Solanas’ movies, El Exilio de Gardel and Sur, for which Piazzolla wrote the music.

Also on this DVD is Piazzolla’s last recorded studio performance TANGO NUEVO (1989, restored and digitally remastered), with six complete Piazzolla classics, such as Milonga del Angel, Zero Hour and Adiós Nonino, illuminated by interviews with the maestro.

PICTURE FORMAT: 16:9 / 4:3


This is a feast for admirers of the great composer and bandoneón player, in whom interest has skyrocketed—isn’t it always this way?—since his death in 1992. This DVD is two offerings in one. First, there is Tango maestro, Mike Dibb’s visual biography of Piazzolla (106 minutes), and then there’s Tango nuevo, a 45-minute “studio concert” from 1989, in which Piazzolla and his last ensemble, the New Tango Sextet, play Milonga del angel, Tanguedia, Mumuki, Zero Hour, Adiós nonino, and Sex-Tet, with introductions by the composer. As a bonus, there are 53 minutes of interviews not used, or used in abbreviated form, in Tango maestro. (There’s also a seven-minute excerpt of pianist Joanna MacGregor, accordionist James Crabb, and some of Piazzolla’s colleagues rehearsing Milonga del angel, but it feels like an afterthought among all of this material. No harm done, though.)

Dibb’s film follows Piazzolla from his humble beginnings in Argentina and in New York City. Born in 1921, he was given his first bandoneón by his father when he was eight. At 13, he wowed tango star Carlos Gardel, who palled around with the boy and even included him in one of his films. In time, the family returned to Argentina, and Piazzolla began playing with tango orchestras in Buenos Aires. His talent was too big to fit the confines of the traditional tango, and leaders of tango orchestras complained that his innovations made the music too hard to dance to. Piazzolla formed his own orchestra, and—after encouragement from Nadia Boulanger in Paris— developed what has come to be known as tango nuevo, or “new tango,” to distinguish it from the old form, which is comparatively unadventurous. Tango nuevo, with its new harmonies and more complicated rhythms, angered many traditionalists, and this came to a head in the mid 1950s when Piazzolla’s wife and two children were threatened, and he even was physically attacked by those who thought he was perverting a national treasure. With the death of his father in 1959—an event that inspired Adiós nonino—Piazzolla’s personality changed. The formerly ideal family man more or less walked away from his family. Dibb’s film presents Piazzolla from then on as a consummate musician, but as a less than stellar human being. His children, Daniel and Diana, accentuate the positive, but the point is made, in so many words, that their father was self-absorbed, insensitive, and socially inconsistent. Dibb’s film, then, is a warts-and-all biography of the man, told through archival materials (photos, film, concert footage) and many, many interviews with family members, friends, colleagues, and even the man who often took him fishing. (Piazzolla, it appears, saw fishing as the one great escape from his quotidian concerns.) The film misses out on biographical detail, particularly during the 1940s and early 1950s, and sometimes the thread of the story is lost in the stream of interviews, but it gives one a feel for the man, as well as for his music, which continues to perplex those who obsess over categorization. Is it classical? Pop? Jazz? World music? I’d say it’s either all or none of the above.

Tango nuevo was filmed in England for BBC2. There is a studio audience, and a hokey set, and Piazzolla’s introductions—sometimes over the music itself—are not consistently well thought out. On occasion, footage of dancers, street scenes, etc., is superimposed over the musicians. However, in spite of these distractions, it is treasurable to see Piazzolla in what is billed as his “last recorded studio concert.” He had had quadruple bypass surgery the year before, but there’s no weakness in his playing, and the music is there for everyone to hear in all its melancholy, outlandish glory. The members of the New Tango Sextet play as if they were all neurologically linked to Piazzolla. Although this group was technically new, its members had collaborated with the composer before, so their affinity for this music is understandable.

Visually and sonically, this DVD’s production values are on the highest level, and my only complaint is that navigating through the menus is a little confusing. That’s hardly going to prevent me from returning to this disc again and again.

Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Milonga del Angel by Astor Piazzolla
Performer:  Astor Piazzolla (Bandoneon)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; Argentina 

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