Tuesday 9 April 2019

A musical encounter between two traditions: classical guitarist Christoph Denoth's engaging exploration of tango - Tanguero: Music from South America

 Tanguero: Music from South America; Christoph Denoth; Signum Classics
Tanguero: Music from South America; Christoph Denoth; Signum Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 April 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A classical guitarist's engaging exploration of tango music from South America.

This disc from the Swiss guitarist Christoph Denoth on the Signum Classics label is an encounter between two traditions, the Western classical guitar and the South American tango. The two are, of course, related and the South American guitar tradition has at various times helped re-vivify Western classical guitar playing. And in a figure like Astor Piazzolla, who trained with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and who created the complexities of tango nuevo, there is something of a coming together of these traditions.

But Denoth's style of playing is firmly in the Western classical tradition and this disc represents his own encounter with South American tango, music he heard whilst he was touring South American countries and which he has sought to absorb into his own playing. On this disc he aims 'to exploit the acoustic range of the guitar in order to integrate the tango and its untame beauty into classical music'.

On the disc are twenty one pieces by thirteen South American composers, in Denoth's own arrangements for classical guitar. So we have seven pieces by Piazzolla ranging from Libertango to Milonga del Angel, plus music by Angel Villoldo, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, Carlos Gardel, Eladia Blaquez, Roland Dyens, Egberto Gismonti, Joao Teixeira Guimaraes, Dilermando Reis, Antonio Lauro, Abel Fleury, Jorge Cardoso and Julia Sagreras, composers from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Uraguary, as well as Tunisia. The music explores the 20th century tango from pioneers such as Angel Villoldo (1861-1919) through to contemporary exponents such as Jorge Cardoso (born 1949) and Egberto Gismonti (born 1947).

The 20th century saw the tango develop from a basic dance-form into a complex musical genre which was not necessarily a dance, but throughout there were the same combinations of energy, rhythm and melody, transformed into something which is darkly emotional, sensual and poetic. On this disc Denoth applies another layer by viewing the music through his own guitar tradition, which prizes beauty of tone and complexity of texture.

Denoth does not try to be an Argentinian tango player, instead he explores the music refracted through his own technique. So we have complex and elegant variations, and a willingness to replace raw energy with something else, a powerful technique, sense of control of detail and an intricate texture based not on energy, melody and rhythm but on the harmonies created by multiple fingers on a guitar, not strumming but picking out individual notes and lines.

The result is perhaps surprising, showing how music can be transformed yet still be the same. These arrangements are elegant and stylish, always engaging and melodic. Yet they also give us a picture of the tango. Perhaps the raw energy is lacking, but there are all sorts of other gains and throughout the imagination and intensity of the original music shines. How can it not, these are simply wonderful tunes and Denoth is following in a strong tradition, taking popular and folk music and re-inventing it in classical form.

The disc includes an essay by Denoth on his inspiration for the disc, and also a long article by Graham Wade which introduces all the composers, many of whom will be new names though you may recognise their music. And a word about the picture on the disc's cover; no trick photography was involved, Christoph Denoth has been able to balance his guitar in such fashion since he was a youth!

Tanguero: Music from South America
Works by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), Angel Villoldo (1861-1919), Gerardo Mamtos Rodriguez (1897-1948), Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), Eladia Blaquez (1931-2005), Roland Dyens (1955-2016), Egberto Gismonti (born 1947), Joao Texieira Guimaraes (1883-1947),  Dilermando Reis (1916-1977) Antonio Lauro (1917-1986), Abel Fleury (1903-1958), Jorge Cardoso (born 1949), Julia Sagreras (1879-1942)
Christoph Denoth (guitar)
Recorded in Marlow House Studio, Wantage, 5-8 December 2017, 23-28 January 2018
Available from Amazon.

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