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Astor Piazzolla
Le Grand Tango
Peter And Zoltán Katona - guitars
With
Alfredo Marcucci - bandoneón
Daniel Storer - double bass
The Carducci String Quartet

Review By Phil Gold
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Astor Piazzolla Le Grand Tango

SACD Number: Channel Classics CCS SA 1980 

 

"Gold and oil at once, and rubies and diamonds to the utmost profusion, mingled with vintage champagne, lightly chilled, sprinkled with a few drops of juice from lemons picked by the soft white hands of beautiful virgins on the southern slopes of Mount Olympus"
Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times, 1976, reviewing "Wild Oats"

 

  On this recommendation I went to see John O'Keeffe's 18th century comedy Wild Oats in London's West End. Shallow stuff, certainly not Shakespeare, but still the most fun imaginable.

Le Grand Tango is a winner in every respect: sparkling playing, beautiful arrangements of modern classics, and a recording that reveals it all. Of course, we're not talking Johann Sebastian Bach here, not even Rossini, although that's closer to the mark. Take it for what it is and enjoy.

This may not be the most authentic performance of Piazzolla's compositions—you can go to the composer himself for that. Apart from one piece, these are basically guitar duo adaptations (by the Katona Twins) of the various original scores. We also have a slight toning down of the dangerous edge, and an emphasis instead on the beauty, panache and lyricism of the music.

There have been many famous guitar duos over the years, most famously the husband and wife pairing of Alexandre Lagoya and Ida Presti. This duo inspired several composers, including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Joaquin Rodrigo, to write music for guitar duo. Their records, especially Guitar Duets [Philips 6768657] number among my most treasured guitar recordings, and their ease, flair and mutual understanding are awe-inspiring.

Astor Piazzolla wrote only one piece for guitar duo, the Tango Suite, dedicated to the Assad brothers, Sergio and Odair. Do two brothers trump husband and wife? Maybe not, but twin brothers are another story. The young Hungarian-born Katona Twins, Peter and Zoltán, have studied in Budapest, Frankfurt and London, including classes under Julian Bream and John Williams. They play guitars made by Dragan Musulin in 1991. They have already won many prizes, including the Concert Artists Guild Competition in 1998, which led directly to a performance at Carnegie Hall and representation in North America. This is their fourth recording for the enterprising Channel Classics label, following discs of Spanish music [CCS 10397], Scarlatti and Handel [CCS 14298], and the Concerto Madrigal by Rodrigo [CCS 16698].

From the very first bar we know something special is going on here--an intimacy and coherence of sound that remind me of the Lagoya-Presti Duo. I love the ease of the playing, the split-second mood shifts, and the perfect sound of ten fingers from two right hands playing as one. I'm thrilled that the spurious fret noises that afflict some guitarists are absent. The recording is open and airy, with splendid presence and attack.

Whether exciting us with brilliant high-speed runs in Fugata or seducing us with breathtaking tone and phrasing in the sublime tune from Milonga, the twins are highly attuned to this music. Most of all, their uncanny musical empathy, best evidenced in "Tango Number 3," sets this duo apart from the crowd. They may not yet challenge Lagoya-Presti in musical intelligence and virtuosity, but these young virtuosos are well on their way.

Tango Suite, Le Grand Tango and Otoño Porteñoare scored here for guitar duo. Fugato, Homenaje a Lieja and Tres Minutos con la Realidad include string quartet and double bass, while Milonga en Re features a bandoneón. All the artists are in fine fettle and totally in sync with the Katona Twins. Alfredo Marcucci is most impressive here. His bandoneón playing captures just the right degrees of pain and pathos, and he sounds like he has played with the Katona Twins for years.

If I have to pick out the highlights of this disc, the Fugata is a good place to start. The twins' expressive range conveys a multitude of emotions. I also adore Piazzolla's late work Milonga en Re. It opens with a gentle lullaby from the guitars on each side of the stage; the bandoneón emerges between them and sings its own heartfelt story. Here the balance is simply superb; I can't imagine it being played any better.

You will need a very fine stereo indeed to do justice to the sonics on this disc. Otherwise you may miss some of the subtleties captured on this recording. I also may be missing something, since I've been listening only to the Red Book layer of this hybrid SACD/CD recording. Can it get any better?

I defy you to listen to this playing and not be swept away.

 

 

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