Friday, October 30

Considering "Libertango"

I don't remember the first time I heard Astor Piazzolla's “Libertango.” Most likely it was on AccuRadio's Tango station, but it just blended into the background. Once they started playing it at Simply Dance milongas in a set with “El Tango de Roxanne” and definitely after I saw its music video produced for The Tango Dancer, or some such thing, the song confidently strode to position itself among my favorites of all time. Before I go any further, I make full disclosure that music is not my thing. I like a lot of it a lot, but I really lack the training to wholly appreciate it. I mix up harmony and melody and can say nothing about the influence of any one artist or composer upon another. Just so you know what to expect from the rest of this interlude from squeeing over Piazzolla and “Libertango.”

The opening is just marvelous. The piano makes a frantic rush. It's headlong. You can hear it stumbling over its own feet. Violin and bandoneon appear briefly but never to bring order until the violin breaks in and takes control after a minute of barely contained chaos. For a time, this incredible passion and energy has found an outlet, but it collapses into that chaotic energy once again at the end. It's a rush. You feel out of breath merely listening to it. Piazzolla may not have written the most danceable tangos, but who could resist this one?

All of which, understandably, would make me rather eager to hear other takes on this little masterpiece. I count the Yo-Yo Ma cover from his Piazzolla: Soul of Tango and Rodrigo Y Gabriela's take in Live: Manchester and Dublin among my collection. Unfortunately, neither really measures up to the original. Ma falls the farthest from the original. His may be the most famous in America due to its appearance in the aforementioned The Tango Dancer, or some such film, and by virtue of the fact he is Yo-Yo Ma, one of the few cellist the average American could name off-hand, but his “Libertango” is inert. It's as though he thought Piazzolla's composition was too fun and needed to be more boring. The frantic energy is reined in, replaced with a bandoneon that may as well be a metronome. By the time he is finished taking out the good bits, “Libertango” may as well be played at one of the balls those Bennett girls were so fond of. This may be unfair since the other versions I have of “Libertango” are live and not studio recorded, but I paid good money for this.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela manage the not difficult task of besting Yo-Yo Ma in covering this song, but they still are not within striking distance of the original. Strange as it is to say, especially for this duo, “Libertango” is too nice at the beginning. Their guitars very nicely share the stage with the visiting violinist. That's just not right here. “Libertango” is a struggle between instruments. The fight to take control of the song. They are definitely not sharing. It's only at the end that the Mexicans remember this and begin to perform a worthy successor to Piazzolla's original.

It pains me to write these things. Ma's Bach:The Cello Suites is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius and artistry and it absolutely tears me up that I won't be able to hear 11:11 until next year, but somehow they all managed to miss what made “Libertango” so great without really introducing a wholly alternative vision of it. I guess the part-to-whole fallacy is real.

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