Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango compositions continue to inspire new interpretations and tributes more than 20 years after the death of the great Argentine composer. One of the latest is the lovely album Astor Piazzolla: Escualo (Harmonia Mundi) by harpist Ann Hobson Pilot, violinist Lucia Lin and bandoneonista J.P. Jofre.
The bandoneon and violin are commonly associated with Piazzolla’s work, but the harp is less so. While its presence bestows a softer, less-insistent-than-usual sound on these beautiful works, their essence remains intact in the graceful arrangements, some of which are new ones by harpist Michael Maganuco, a former student of Pilot, who was the longtime principal harpist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra before her recent retirement.
The album closes with three pieces from the “Angel Suite,” but the angelic quality of Pilot’s harp comes through much earlier, notably in the soft second movement of “Histoire du Tango,” where the harp ably takes the place of the guitar in a work originally scored for guitar and flute. Pilot and Lin lay out the four movements of the “Histoire” like a long, elegant meal. The easy smile of the harp’s sound prevents this from being the most gripping rendition you’ll find, but one doesn’t always need to be gripped. Piazzolla’s sometimes biting music contains multitudes of possibilities, gentleness always among them.
The inclusion of the “Histoire,” with its stylistic survey of the evolution of the tango through the prism of its greatest advocate’s imagination, makes this album a good introduction to Piazzolla for the new listener.
Elsewhere the harp fills in for the piano, as in “Escualo” (“Shark”), the flashy violin showcase that opens the album, and “Valsísimo,” a tender waltz originally written for solo piano and here arranged by Maganuco for violin and harp. The third of Piazzolla’s six Tango-Études, written with a Bach-like flair for solo flute, is appropriately cutting on Lin’s violin, while Pilot’s harp takes the solo stage for the much sadder “Chiquillín de Bachín.”
The album’s high point for me is the lyrical “Milonga del Ángel,” the first of three selections from the “Angel Suite” of related pieces Piazzolla composed over a number of years around the character of an angel. The three musicians embody the work’s sweetness with all the depth I could ask for. That goes for the album as a whole. I might have imagined a whole album of Piazzolla featuring the harp would be a little too dolce, but while it’s certainly filled with gentle landscapes it’s not at all weak, but solid and firmly stated, a testament to the endless potential of Piazzolla’s music and the sensitivity of these fine musicians.
Astor Piazzollo: Escualo will be released January 13, 2015 and is now available for pre-order.