Guitarist Illuminates Piazzolla’s Music in a Trio Setting

by Aryeh Eller
October 2003

Latin/World music fans and those familiar with or new to the music of legendary Argentinean composer and tango master Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992) will be glad to add guitarist Tali Roth’s new recording Tango Nuevo — Music of Astor Piazzolla (Laughing Buddha Records LBP99-2010) to their CD collection.

Tango Nuevo, or New Tango, refers to innovations Piazzolla and others brought to the traditional tango — using small chamber ensembles instead of the usual orchestra, employing sophisticated harmonies, and weaving contrapuntal textures that recall Baroque music. With these features Piazzolla brought this ballroom dance into the concert hall, where it is appreciated today for it rich musical values alone.

Roth, a graduate of the Juilliard School, presents solo guitar arrangements of the master and explores the versatility of the instrument in a trio-chamber music setting. Expert tango players Humberto Ridolfi, violinist, and Pablo Aslan, bassist, collaborate with Roth to give the music a rhythmic and textural heft that would not be possible with guitar only. The cry of the violin and the dark and rhythmic anchor of the low register of the bass give the recording an authentic tango flavor rarely heard in guitar recordings of Piazzolla’s works.

The effectiveness of the guitar as participant in a chamber setting is evident from the first track, “Retrato de Milton” (Milton’s Portrait), where the music literally sounds three-dimensional, the musicians seeming to play right in front of you. Such is the force and passion of this close-knit ensemble. Roth plays a number of solo guitar works, most memorably Baltazar Benitez’s arrangement of “Milonga Del Angel.” Her interpretation of this most haunting of Piazzolla’s milongas oozes with a dark, brooding sensuality. Her phrasing of Piazzolla’s lugubrious and unforgettable melody is personal, expressive and melodic, the tone from her Otto Vowinkel guitar meltingly lovely. These qualities Roth displays to her advantage on Jay Kaufmann’s arrangement of “Ontoño Porteno” (Autumn), one of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons in Buenos Aires, composed originally for chamber ensemble. In long solo passages from this beautiful work, Roth’s guitar takes the place of the usual bandoneon (Argentine accordion and Piazzola’s main instrument) with long, reflective legato phrases — you’d think she is blowing air into the notes instead of plucking them.

Roth demonstrates her formidable virtuoso technique in three movements from L’Histoire Du Tango (History of the Tango), played with Ridolfi on violin. The duo conjure the tango in all its glory — from its early beginnings in turn-of-the-century bordellos to its place in a nightclub circa 1960 — with both vibrant and languid music. Other highlights of the disc are two movements from Piazzolla’s only original solo work for guitar, the Cinco Piezas para Guitarra, arranged by Michael Barry. The trio play two of the more rhythmic pieces of this work, “Acentuado” and “Compadre,” presenting a fresh perspective on the music.

The CD as a whole has a wonderful sense of intimacy that draws you into Piazzolla’s sensuous and cosmopolitan world. Roth, Ridolfi and Aslan play every note by the master with extreme understanding, dedication and infectious passion. Highly recommended.