Anna Williams, Eri Nakamura, Carla Jablonski, and Mikhail Veselov on the cover of their new album (courtesy of Jensen Artists)
This past Friday Azica Records released Celebrating Piazzolla, the latest album of performances by the Neave Trio. Consisting of violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura, this group has been around since 2010. It aims to champion new works by living composers and reach wider audiences through innovative concert presentations. Since Astor Piazzolla died in 1992, his music does not quite fit the agenda; but it remains “beyond the fringe” where most concert programming is concerned.
The major work on the album is Estaciones Porteñas, usually translated liberally as “the four seasons of Buenos Aires.” Piazzolla wrote these pieces for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneon; but they were not conceived (at least originally) as a collection. They were not even created in “chronological” order. “Summer” was the first, written in 1965, followed by “Winter” in 1969. 1970 then saw the composition of the remaining two pieces, “Spring” and “Autumn.”
Piazzolla would occasionally perform these four pieces as a set, but they attracted much wider audience attention after Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov prepared an arrangement that was performed by Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica. Recognizing that Kremer’s audience would have its own expectations for a piece of music called Four Seasons, Desyatnikov spiced up the collection with a few passing references to Antonio Vivaldi. On the other hand the piano trio arrangement played by Neave was composed by one of Piazzolla’s close colleagues, José Bragato.
Bragato avoided any references to Vivaldi; but he never established any sense that this music was born out of the spontaneous music-making of a tango combo. The result is a score that is far blander than Desyatnikov’s, which, while just as scrupulously composed, managed more effectively to evoke a sense of spontaneity, particularly in the solo passages. (Such spontaneity would have been expected by those playing Vivaldi’s music in his day.)
For the remainder of the album, Neave is joined by mezzo Carla Jablonski, who first met Williams when they were both at the Manhattan School of Music. The group performs four Piazzolla songs in arrangements by the composer’s younger protégé Leonardo Suárez Paz. The last song in the set, “Yo Soy María,” came from Piazzolla’s tango operetta María de Buenos Aires and a time when Piazzolla was living in the two worlds of tango clubs and concert halls with equal attentiveness. The album then concludes with one of Suárez Paz’ own songs, “Milonga de los Monsters 2.”
While these selections present a less familiar side of the Piazzolla legacy, that legacy would have been better served had the booklet provided the texts for these songs, preferably in both the original Spanish and English. (If economy was a consideration, a URL to a Web page would have sufficed as an alternative.) My guess is that most listeners who think they know about Piazzolla are not aware that he wrote an operetta, let along the narrative of that operetta. The song that Jablonski sings is obviously intended to introduce the title character to the audience, but to what end?
Neave should be praised for providing an opportunity to listen to the vocal side of Piazzolla’s repertoire, but a bit of background would have made that opportunity a more informed experience.