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Buenos Aires Madrigals
Argentine Tangos
And Italian Madrigals

Review By Todd Warnke
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Buenos Aires Madrigals: Argentine Tangos And Italian Madrigals

CD Stock: MA Recordings M063A


  To a great many 'Mericans, everything south of the Texas border is Mexico, or at least Spanish. Ok, the worldly among us will quickly point out that Brazil is Portuguese, ignoring the fact the Brazil is also the most African of South American countries. Which is the point. All modern Western Hemisphere cultures have drawn heavily on immigrants from around the globe, and perhaps none so dramatically as in Argentina. There, influences from Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal have mixed with Africa and the indigenous Americans to produce a society that, by the mid twentieth century was in the top ten in GDP worldwide, and, more importantly, was an emerging and powerful cultural voice. Today, decades of political violence and corruption have threatened to move Argentina back to a near third world economy, but the culture continues to thrive. And perhaps no part of Argentine culture has garnered as much international attention as the Tango has.

Tango has roots that in ways mirror the highest American art form, Jazz. Both originated in the late 1800s, and each began as music of the underclass. In addition, both began as overtly sexual music, with the formal Tango steps giving a stylized dance to the approach and passion of whore and customer. But where Jazz was an African music that called on European influences, Tango starts from a European base and added African rhythms. That European base allowed Tango to jump back across the Atlantic in the mid 1930s and storm the dancehalls as well as the symphony halls. It also allowed record producer Todd Garfinkle to develop a recording that employs the old scholastic tradition of compare and contrast, and on this album, he compares the Tango with Italian Madrigals, from which Tango, as the album, shows, made extensive borrowings.

To tell this story the musicians must be both skilled and versatile, and the group Garfinkle assembled fulfill both obligations. Fully half are from Argentina, while the remainder are from Brazil, Switzerland and Italy. The alto voice is Ximena Biondo, an Argentine who is possessed of a beautiful, rich and passionate voice perfect for her career as a Tango singer, while the tenor is the Italian opera singer Furio Zanasi. Both move from Tango to early music and back with grace, power and deep emotion. We hear Zanasi first, and when his majestic voice bites into an Italian madrigal from the 1500s, we are transported across centuries. The following tune features Biondo on a Piazzola Tango, and in place of the expected time whiplash, we instead see the underlying passion both musics share. Two tracks later Zanasi takes his turn at Tango, and while operatic, his style fits the music with elegance. Later, when both voices combine, first on a Tango and then on a Monteverdi madrigal, the mixture is, indeed, timeless.

The instrumental accompaniment is no less wonderful and surprising - surprising because Garkinkle chose to use early music instruments such as the viola da gamba, baroque cello, lute and lirone on both the madrigal and tango sections. It works to perfection, uniting the spirit of old Italy and modern Argentina and Sabina Colonna-Preti, Sergio Alvares, Andrea de Carlo, Martin Zeller, Francisco Gato, Eduardo Eguez and Fabrizio Zanella (the latter on violin) bring a finely wrought balance to this music. Of course, Tango would be impossible without the bandoneon, and Gabriel Rivano plays his role with consummate skill, rounding out the sound with the swagger of Tango.

Recorded in a remote church, in the Italian Alps, sessions stretched over 4 days and out of consideration to the local church members, started late in the afternoon and ended early in the morning. The acoustic is wonderful, generating luminous and clear textures, a distinct hall ambience and a startling live feel. Garfinkle captured this sound using a Fostex DVD-RAM recorder (the DV-40) and custom, battery-powered microphones, using Bruel and Kjaer capsules and cabling from George Cardas. The result is, as so many MA Recordings are, of true reference caliber. More importantly, the music is of reference quality as well. Perhaps best of all, if this is your first exposure to an MA Recordings album, Garfinkle's catalog is a godsend for those looking for challenging, interesting and beautiful music - most often all three at once. 



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