The CT Tango Ensemble have been performing for a decade. We are a South African based group that includes a Polish Violinist and  Bulgarian Accordionist and Bandoneonist. When we first started playing Tango, Stanislav Angelov (variously publicised as Anguelov, Angeulov or Angheolov, and sometimes – in desperation – simply as Stanislav!) performed on the Accordion, the instrument he had studied since his childhood.

Stanislav performing on Accordion

In a companion posting Bandoneon – King of Tango, I described some of Stanislav’s reasons for wanting to study the Bandoneon and his fascinating journey with the Cape Town Tango Ensemble. Stanislav is the only musician I know who performs on both the Accordion and the Bandoneon at this level. On the CT Tango Ensemble’s latest CD Tango Club, Stanislav has recorded on both instruments. This makes him uniquely qualified to talk about the different aspects of performing on these related instruments. Stanislav was brave to attempt to record Tango on the Accordion on our first CD El Tango En Africa and he was praised, by both Accordeon and Bandoneon players, for a deep understanding of the music. (Accordions Worldwide awarded the CD 4 stars) Tango aficionados were sceptical about the Accordion being used in the ensemble instead of the traditional Argentine Bandoneon. But when they heard the product, people were won over.

Stanislav Anguelov playing his beloved "Victoria" Bandoneon

Yet, since we loved the recordings of the great Tango masters – such as Piazzolla, Mederos, Troilo – we had to explore different sounds. When budget allows, we add singers, saxophone, guitar or occasionally a drum kit. Once or twice we have even had 2 violins added to our quartet. These instruments come and go, but the constant is the Accordion and the Bandoneon, and Stanislav performs on both in one concert, depending on the repertoire. 

To non-musicians this might seem a small issue, but in the passionate “Tangoland”, opinions are absolute, arguments are heated, friends and lovers are made and lost, over aspects of truth and authenticity. Astor Piazzolla got into such trouble for his innovations in Tango music, that his life was threatened. A dancer actually heard his Tango Nuevo  on the radio and went to the radio station to shoot this man who was supposedly killing the dance!

"Close Embrace" - Photo J Altschuler

Listening to Dancers or Dance teachers speak about the tango can be confusing. Argentine “Close Embrace” dancing is intense and intimate, while Ballroom Tango (one of the incarnations of Tango after its export to the salons of Paris) is more flashy and exhibitionist.

Ballroom Tango Competition

Our ensemble has performed with world-class and world-renowned Tango dancers such as Eric Jorissen, for whom the intimacy of “Close Embrace” is the primary objective of the dance. And yet, I have been told by a Ballroom aficionado that they find this style of dancing boring and “inauthentic”. At the same time, many Argentine Tango dancers consider Ballroom dancing  – and even any for of choreography – to be shallow and superficial. “Strictly Come Dancing” or “Come Dancing Strictly”?

The truth is – of course – that both are valid. Both are responses to the music, and both are genuine attempts of people trying to express the music, and express themselves through the movement. The same goes for if one should use the Accordion or the Bandoneon. 

Naked Bandoneon

Stanislav is a master disguiser.  The difference in the sound of the Accordion and the Bandoneon is very difficult to distinguish if the Accordion player tries to match the sound of the Bandoneon. However the opposite is impossible. The Bandoneon has two main categories of sound: Right hand notes are bright and powerful and the left hand notes are mellow and softer. The left hand therefore provides accompaniment to the melodies of the right hand. The Bandoneon also does not play chords with one button like the Accordion. Ech note that makes up a chord, must be pressed down individually. This allows much more freedom in the voicing of chords, but also makes the Bandoneon a terribly complicated instrument to learn to play. The left hand buttons are arranged according to the Circle of Fifths – the most basic mathematical principal in musical harmony.

Topless Accordion

The Accordion on the other hand, has a piano-style keyboard, played by one hand, and pre-set chord buttons on the other.The Bandoneon represents one of the early stages of the evolution of the Accordion, and therefore it is technically less complex and costly to build. And it is true that the level of complexity of the musical material that the Accordion handles, can be higher – given the keyboard layout.  This makes some of the more virtuosic – pianistic, if you like – passages, a bit simpler on the Accordion. The Accordeon therefore can play double notes as melodies, while providing ready made chordal accompaniments. In an Argentinian Orquestra Tipica, there is usually more than one Bandoneon playing, precisely to make the harmonies, and play passages in more than one voice. The virtuosity is visible and audible as these “worms” chase each other around the fast passages. The thrill is tremendous.

Ironically, the older design of the Bandoneon makes it a louder instrument than the Accordion – even if it is smaller in size. The reeds of the Bandoneon are made from a heavier mixture of metals. The inside of the Bandoneon also has more metal, creating a reflective soundbox to amplify the vibrations. Also, despite the size, the Bandoneon physically has more space inside the bellows, which allows the sound more “space” to travel.  I refer you to this excellent page by Stanislav’s Bandoneon guru Prof. Ricardo Fiorio, giving a more technical description on the capabilities of the Bandoneon as well as MP3 audio files:

Bandoneon Notation – By Ricardo Fiorio

Available on the record label Good Music World

Stanislav Angelov – Bandoneon & Accordion

Albert Combrink – Piano & Keyboard

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Charles Lazar – Double Bass

& Guests

Kevin Gibson  – Drums

Willie van Zyl – Saxophone

Adriana Edwards – Vocals

James Grace – Guitar

Photo Alexander Zabara - http://www.tangoimage.com

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

“Were Bach to be born again, he would be a Bandoneon player.” (Rodolfo Mederos)

Stanislav Anguelov playing his beloved "Victoria" Bandoneon

The CT Tango Ensemble’s new CD Tango Club, (released in 2010 on the Good Music record label – www.goodmusic.com) features Bandoneonist Stanislav Anguelov who also plays the Accordion on the recording. Stanislav studied the classical Accordeon in Bulgaria, but his involvement with Tango music created the desire to learn the instrument most associated with the Tango – the Bandoneon. After our first Cape Town Tango Ensemble CD El Tango en Africa, Stanislav wanted to explore this instrument – as authentically Argentine and Tango as one can get, despite the German heritage of the instrument. We have a drive to be as authentic to the spirit of Tango as we can, while having something new to say. We are an African group including Bulgarian and Polish Musicians playing Argentine music after all!

At the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in 2001 our Ensemble had the great fortune to meet Argentine Tango Master, Composer and Bandoneon Mastro Prof. Riccardo Fiorio. He was extremely complimentary of the ensemble’s idiomatic playing, learnt through recordings, rehearsals and many milongas where we could get feedback from dancers. In particular, Fiorio priased Stanislav for using the Accordeon to imitate the playing style of the Bandoneon. This chance meeting led to a long friendship, and he even gave us permission to use his composition A Borges on our first CD. Stanislav bought himself a secondhand Bandoneon, and with charcteristic determination, started practising. Feeling competent enough to benefit from world-class musicians, Stanislav packed his Bandoneon and in 2005 took the journey to the Land of Tango.

It was an eye (and ear-) opening experience. He heard the finest tango orchestras:  Sexteto Mayor, Hernandez Fierro Orqustra Tipica, Color Tango, El Aranque and many more. He had an intensive period of study with Riccardo Fiorio. He met the famous touring group Quatro Tango and also had lessons with the Bandoneonista Hugo Satore. When this group brought their show Tango Fire to Cape Town in 2006, another period of study followed. By then Stanislav was performing regularly on the Bandoneon in addition to the Accordion. The time had come to upgrade to a professional quality instrument.

Bandoneon buttons

The bandoneon is a rectangular and square bellows instrument, using air pumped through a set of metal reeds, which creates the sound. It is a relative of the accordion and is popular in the Rio de la Plata, an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean in South America formed by the confluence of the rivers Parana and Uruguay, which serves as a border around the Argentine Republic and the Eastern Republic of Uruguay (300 km in length). The bandoneon is strongly linked to the tango. The name of the instrument derives from the German Bandoneon and is an acronym for the name Heinrich Band (1821-1860), who was awarded the patent for the invention.

Between the two World Wars, the German Alfred Arnold created a large body of instruments of such quality  that he is called the Stradivarious of the Bandoneon. Popular opninion in Argentina holds that nobody does (or will ever) match Arnold’s instruments and owning a Doble A (Double A) is still considered the first requirement to being a Tango musician. The only problem is that some of Arnold’s instruments are by now a century old, and no amount of reconditioning and refurbishing can make them sound young again. The original parts just do not exist any more. These instruments are portable reed instruments – which means ironically they have more in common with the Oboe or Clarinet than the piano. They are delicate and the art of working on them is highly specialised. This means that a lot of the Arnold instruments played in Argentina are old and in bad shape. Stanislav decided to have his instrument hand-made at the workshop in Castelfidardo in Italy which they call Victoria – established already in 1919.

Rodolfo Mederos, one of the world’s most renowned Tango musicians had the following to say about his instrument, the Bandoneon:

Two Bandoneon masters: Rodolfo Mederos with Astor Piazzolla

“It seems to me that upon arrival from Germany, the bandoneon was told, “You shall be king of tango for centuries to come. “We might think that the instrument was born and made history in an immigrant settlement afflicted with melancholy, the element in tango. No other instrument has ever been able to express that language, that feeling. I would say that the bandoneon has the ability to affect human existence with melancholy. One thing is to put sorrow into words; another is to feel the sorrow…
Like the cutting edge of a knife, the bandoneon hurts first. However paradoxical it may seem, the bandoneon also constitutes the very heart of tango music. It is subtly bonded to the other instruments, forming a sort of nervous system which interconnects them and gives them life.

Piazzolla stretched the expressive capabilities of the Bandoneon to the maximum

The bandoneon breathes… systolic and diastolic forces make it almost human. Fortunately, it is unplugged by nature; therefore, one can feel it as an extension of one’s body. It requires opening and closing, that is, the vital mechanism… People open and close their mouths to eat. Sphincters open and close… People make love by opening and closing… People die: they close. People are born: they open. Opening and closing… the most perfect and inherently human mechanism.
The two keyboards, interconnected by means of a bellow, a lung, can produce a virtually imperceptible, an almost inaudible pianissimo as well as a shrieking sound which can smash crystal into smithereens.
The bandoneon has shown me the way to channel moods and direct tears. The bandoneon leverages one’s talent, it gives us a sense of completeness. And it becomes our secret confidant
.

Photo by Alexander Zabara (www.tangoimage.com)

It is a shelter, like a home, like a woman… It has particular odours, temperatures, corners. It has public areas and private parts; sober spaces and desired places–the ever-present woman; warm and cold zones; reliable sites… and phantoms. The home, the woman, the bandoneon… The ability to communicate with human beings… to convey one’s view of the world… to be listened to from the inside. If all this is embodied in this artefact, then the bandoneon becomes a sort of religion. Were Bach to be born again, he would be a Bandoneon player.”

Hear the Bandoneon sing in the hands of virtuoso Stanislav Anguelov on the new CD Tango Club (released March 2010) by the  CT TANGO ENSEMBLE:

Stanislav Anguelov – Bandoneon and Accordion

Albert Combrink – Piano and Keyboard

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Charles Lazar – Double Bass

with guest artsists:

Adriana Edwards – Vocals

Willie van Zyl – Saxophone

Kevin Gibson – Drums

James Grace – Guitar

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (1858 –1924)

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

Puccini’s private life seems to be a good subject for a soap opera. He appears to have been happily married to a good wife who was not a big music fan, but nonetheless supported him and his career for his whole life. She also had patience with a husband who entertained a number of extra-marital relations with women from all social circles. Much has been said already on the overlaps in context of Puccini’s leading ladies, both on- and offstage. In comparison with the detailed psychological exploration of his female characters, the men seem rather a more straightforward band of conventional villains, heroes and poetic lovers.

Women in Puccini’s operas have been the butt of many jokes. They seem to epitomise the worst aspects of opera. Mimi in La Boheme, while dying of consumption, nevertheless remains in good enough health to sing her way through a 20 minute death scene. The slave girl Liu stabs herself to avoid giving away the true identity of her beloved, to save his life from the icy princess Turandot. Sister Angelica drinks poison out of guilt at having been in a convent while her child died far away.

Tosca preparing to jump to her death (Karita Mattila - Met 2009)

Tosca stabs the evil Baron Scarpia, killing him violently. To avoid arrest for his murder, she flings herself off the parapet of the Castello Saint Angelo. In the theatre one hopes that she lands on the matress placed below. In some productions – and even more urban legends – the diva occasionally misses the bulls-eye. Or even bounces back into full view of the audience.The Japanese Madama Butterfly commits Hari Kiri with the same knife with which her father killed himself  to restore honour to the family after an incident of shame. That is a lot of self-inflicted bleeding.

Yet these murders, suicides and “unhappy endings” go right the hearts of audiences. Even in a rehearsal of La Boheme, I have seen cast and bystanders in tears at the pathos and unbearable beauty of Mimi’s last desperate love for the poet Rodolfo, and even the flighty character of Musetta responds with a depth of emotion that touches the heart. As Liu grabs her torturer’s knife and plunges it into her heart and the chorus yells “Parla! Parla!” (Speak! Speak!) the audience reacts with the same – but silent – scream.

Soprano Yunah Lee

When the American soldier Pinkerton comes rushing onstage, yelling “Butterfly! Butterfly!” as the blood and life seeps out of her self-inflicted stab-wound, the audience is also yelling a silent “Butterfly! Butterfly!” and gasping at the tragedy.

Of course, the key to all this screaming and bleeding is the exquisite music. Somehow one looks past the incongruities. A healthy, robust, Top-C-Singing soprano playing the role of a young girl, wasted away by terminal TB? A 50 year old Italian dramatic soprano who plays a 16 year old Japanese teenage mother? A massive Tosca the object of lust and desire? All is presented in multiple layers of aural meaning.

Puccini was a master at orchestration and melody, and he had an unerring sense of drama. The so-called “arias” and duets” in his operas are rarely stand-alone items, but they are built into the fabric of the drama at appropriate moments. Some even consider the lack of “applause breaks” to be a weakness in Puccini’s operas. In certain cases, conventions have developed whereby the written music is altered to create “applause moments”. It can create chaos when the audience roars its approval while the conductor and the stage-party attempt to continue. Tosca’s Visi d’arte provides a moment’s respite from all the histrionics that preceded it and the murder and attempted rape that races the act to its climax. Musetta’s waltz Quando m’en vo’ – basically a “concert-number” (an excuse for an aria) – is a break in the hustle and bustle of the Café-scene and acts as the dramatic foil for the deeper and more serious elements of the love-story of the Bohemians. And this is often the main complaint against Puccini’s arias: that they tend to hold up the drama rather than move it forward.

Some of us don’t really mind. They make some of the most glorious moments in all of opera.

Beautiful cherry blossoms

One such moment is the Duet Tutti i fior, from Madame Butterfly. Cio-cio San, the beautiful but fragile and shortlived heroine of the title, has been waiting anxiously for news of the return of her American soldier husband whom she married earlier in the opera. In her naïve youth and the flush of first love, she believed his promised to send for her on his return to America. She rejected her ancestral religion and converted to Christianity for Pinkerton’s sake and even insisted that she was no longer to be called Madama Butterfly, but Madama Pinkerton instead. Pinkerton meanwhile viewed the whole experience as the colonial prerogative of a young navy officer at sea, intending to find a Butterfly in every port. He found himself a proper American bride and had no intention of ever seeing Butterfly again.

At last – after three years of waiting – Butterfly’s prayers are answered. Her faithfulness is rewarded with a canon-shot from the harbor, announcing the arrival of the Abraham Lincoln, Lieutenant Pinkerton’s ship. What follows is one of the most exquisite scenes in the opera. An ecstatic Butterfly and her faithful maid Suzuki shake the cherry-trees in her garden, picking up the soft rain of petals. They decorate the house with flowers from her garden, strewing them everywhere, even twining them around a chair especially placed for the return of the conquering hero. “Everywhere must be full of flowers”, Butterfly sings. “As full of flowers as the night is full of stars”. As their aroma fills the house, Butterfly, in anticipation of her second wedding night with her returning husband, puts on her most exquisite make-up and even dons her wedding dress.

I gave tears to the soil. It gives its flowers to me.

The bittersweetness of this moment is presented in exquisitely lyric poetry and music. Butterfly’s love and naivety are clearly audible. Her excitement at the thought of shortly seeing Pinkerton is illustrated by the nervous key-changes and scurrying passages. Her sadness is underlined by darker harmonies. When she sings in anticipation of the happiness of reunion, the music soars in timeless suspended ecstacy. Suzuki, perhaps the older and wiser of the two women, keeps reminding Butterfly that stripping all the flowers from the garden would leave it bare, as winter. Butterfly is almost foolhardy in her insistence that they “bring spring inside”. Her obsessive recreation of the spring of their marriage is also a desperate attempt to console herself for the agony of the past three years. Pinkerton also uses nature imagery early inthe opera when he admits that he will “play with the butterfly even if doing so will damage its wings”.

Amidst the glory and beauty of the music, and the intoxication of the scent, there is already a foreshadowing of the trgic death. In much the same way, the canon-shot which announces the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship, is symbolic of the “shot to the heart” Butterfly will receive when she can no longer deceive herself and grasps the truth. The beauty of the duet is even more poignant, as by now, the audience knows the end of the story. Butterfly kills herself so that her child by Pinkerton can start a new life in America. The harmonic tensions in the passage where she send her child from the room to go and play while she kills herself, is unbearably emotional. Butterfly arouses endless pity and sympathy.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (1797 – 1861) – “Onodera Junai’s Seppuku”

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) (1797–1861) – “Onodera Junai’s Seppuku”

The reality of Hari Kiri (also known as Seppuku) was far more cruel than encountered in the the orientalist romance of the opera stage. This painting depicts Onodera Junai (wife of a samurai) preparing for jigai (female version of seppuku) to follow her husband in death. Her legs are bound as to maintain a decent posture in agony. Death is given by a tanto cut at the jugular vein. This woodcut by Utagawa Kuniyoshi is from a series called Seichu gishin den, (“Story of truthful hearts”), 1848. This series is based on a true story of 47 Ronen or Samurai who had to commit Hari Kiri for having commited murder to revenge the death of their master. The story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should preserve in their daily lives. To me this example of the force of loyalty and devotion, identifies Butterfly’s suicide as the ultimate gesture of fidelity to Pinkerton and, by implication, their son.

Butterfly as Geisha

For two brief but insightful and fascinating views on the life and work-expectations of the Geisha – the work Butterfly did before her marriage – I refer you to the following excellent sites:

Geisha Study Guide (Pacific Opera, Victoria, Canada)

The Geisha (Okinawa Soba)

Japonisms in the “Flower Duet” – Puccini’s use of Japanese Folksongs in Madama Butterfly

Puccini deffinitely used some Japanese folk melodies in the score of Madama Butterfly. Tom Potter’s excellent 2006 article Japanese Songs in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly contains sheet music and audio files of songs and where they happen in the score. None of these appear to have been used in the Flower Duet. As with large chunks of Turandot – Puccini’s other orientalist opera set in Peking – here it is clear that we are listening to a full-blooded romantic Italian composer at work. The freedom of the harmonies, the expressive fluctuations in tempo, and above all the exquisiteness of the vocal line, are all original Puccini at his best.

Viva Italia!

Beverley Chiat and Violina Angeulov will be performing the Flower Duet in various upcoming performances. You can read more about the performers and other works on the programme by clicking on the following links:

Beverley the Beautiful Butterfly

Violina Angeulov performing Durante’s “Danza, danza fanciulla”

“Madama Butterfly” – Cape Town Opera 2009

 Beverly Chiat will be singing the part of Butterfly in the beautiful Flower Duet  from Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly in the upcoming concert Viva Italia. Chiat is partnered by Bulgarian born Capetonian Violina Anguelov, who sang the role of Suziku in Cape Town Opera’s exquisite 2009 production of Madama Butterfly.

Read more about the Flower Duet HERE.

Beverley is one of South Africa’s leading coloratura sopranos. She has performed many coloratura roles, including Mozart’s “Queen of the night” both locally and abroad. So what is a Gilda doing singing a Butterfly? As wonderful an artist as she is, her voice is not made for the entire role of Butterfly. The dramatic climaxes and chest register required would suit the colours of a Maria Callas, Leontyne Price or a Renata Tebaldi, rather than an exquisite lyric colloratura.

In recent years, the advent of technology made it possible for lighter voices to succeed in this role. Maria Callas, though deffinitely a Spinto, never sang the role on stage. And a heftier Montserat Caballe might be perfectly suited to the vocal demands, but perhaps less so as the delicate teenager. At least on CD, lyric sopranos such as Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Moffo Ying Huang or the young Mirella Freni (in her first recording of the role) make a touching bevy of Butterflies. The Flower Duet is one of the most lyrical passages in the opera, and this part of Butterfly’s personality suites Bev Chiat perfectly. It is in this duet that many of the more successful “hefty” spinto sopranos fall short. A special tenderness is required to convey the tragedy of this hopeful teenager – here not yet 20 years old and mother of a 3 year old child. Beverley’s perfect legato and ease in the high range of her voice, makes listening to her in anything she sings, a pure delight. In this duet her singing conjures up the delightful aroma of the roses and cherry blossoms wafting through the rooms. The pureness of her voice conveys perfectly both the pure and the ecstatic sides of Butterfly’s personality.

The chemistry between these two performers makes this concert an event to look forward to.  

 Beverley Chiat Curriculum Vitae

Beverley Chiat is a coloratura soprano from the beautiful city of Cape Town in South Africa. She began her singing studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Opera School with vocal pedagogy under the guidance of Sarita Stern and opera studies with Angelo Gobbato. She graduated with a Performer’s Diploma in Opera in 1995 as was awarded a full scholarship by UCT. The award enabled Beverley to complete her postgraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester, UK where she graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Performance. During her tenure at the RNCM Beverley was particularly noteworthy in the role of Queen of the Night in the production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. At the conclusion of her RNCM studies Beverley was awarded the prestigious Peter Moores full scholarship award as well as a full scholarship from the Royal Northern College of Music. Thereafter she travelled to Europe to audition and study Italian in Florence with a view to broadening her exposure to classic Italian masterpieces.

Beverley has a particular affinity for the opera stage. Her roles include: The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (Mozart),Serpetta in La Finta Giardiniera (Mozart), Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera (Verdi), Gilda in Rigoletto (Verdi), Adele in Die Fledermaus (J Strauss), Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), Valencienne in The Merry Widow (Lehar), Lucy in The Telephone (Menotti), Frasquita and Micaela in Carmen (Bizet) among others.

In addition to her skills as an opera singer Beverley has achieved considerable success as an oratoria singer and her substantial repertoire, includes: Mozart’s Requiem, his Masses in C Major and D Minor, Motet Exulatate Jubilate; Handel’s Messiah; Mendelssohn’s Elijah; Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Choral Fantasy and Pastoral Mass; Rossini’s Stabat Mater; Haydn’s Nelson Mass; Bach’s Paukenmesse and St John’s Passion; Mahler’s Symphonies 2 and 4, and Carmina Burana by Orff. She has sung the latter with both the Birmingham Royal Ballet and more recently with the Manama Singers in Bahrain.

 Beverley has performed at all the major centres of South Africa in addition to singing in Botswana, Mozambique, Bahrain and Jersey, in the Channel Islands. She has worked with a number of well known and acclaimed conductors and music directors including: Owain Arwel Hughes, Lesley Dunner, Dr Donald Hunt, Dr Barry Smith, Philip Ellis, Richard Cock, Christopher Dowdeswell, Lawrence Dale, Angelo Gobbato, Justus Franz, Wolfgang Goennenwein and Jun Maerkl.

 Apart from her accomplishments in Opera and Operetta Beverley is equally comfortable in a variety of music genres including, Musicals, Jewish Folk Song and lighter cross-over music. More recently she sang in Johannesburg for Opera Africa with Kammersaenger Johann Botha in the Opera Extravaganza and performed with the Cape Town City Ballet, singing Barcelona in their production of Queen at the Ballet.  In 2008 Beverley made her European debut to great acclaim, touring in The Netherlands as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute for the Dutch opera company, De Nationale Reisopera.  Beverley is a part of the group Le Belle Voci and they have released their first CD – Opera deLight.

 

Beverley Chiat (l) & Violina Angeulov (r)

Danza, danza fanciulla is a song by Italian Baroque composer Francesco Durante (1684-1755). Loved and performed by singers across the world, this “Aria Antiche” will make part of a delightful programme Viva Italia, featuring Cape Town’s well-known singing partnership, soprano Beverley Chiat and mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov, accompanied on the piano by Albert Combrink. The all-Italian programme includes familiar gems from the operatic repertoire – including Madama Butterfly, La Boheme and La Traviata – as well as Neapolitan songs.

Danza, danza fanciulla is a delightful invitation to the dance. The sound of the waves and the playful breeze are the accompaniment to this intoxicating frolic. Beautiful sounds such as the singing of the poet, mix with the glorious sounds of nature, inviting a young girl to let her spirit run free – and by implication also her body.

Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile (Text by an anonymous poet,  in Italian)

Danza, danza, fanciulla, al mio cantar;

danza, danza fanciulla gentile, al mio cantar.

Gira leggera, sottile al suono, al suono dell’onde del mar.

Senti il vago rumore dell’aura scherzosa

che parla al core con languido suon,

e che invita a danzar senza posa, senza posa,

che invita a danzar.

Danza, danza, fanciulla

"Girl dancing on Liquid GOld"

Dance, dance, gentle young girl

(Text by an anonymous poet, in free translation by Albert Combrink)

Dance, dance, young girl to my singing (song)

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my (singing) song;

Twirling lightly and softly to the sound, to the sound of the waves of the sea.

Sense the vague rustling of the playful breeze

that speaks to the heart with its languid sound,

that invites you to dance without stopping, without stopping

that invites you to dance.

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my song.

Durante: The composer whose sacred music overshadows the rest of his output. 

Francesco Durante

Durante was born in Regno delle Due Sicilie (the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) at a time when it was the richest and most important of the Italian states before the unification of Italy. From a large family, his first musical influence was his father, a dedicated singer in the parish church. He entered the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesu Cristo (The Concservatory of the poor of Jesus Christ) in Naples and later became a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti. He later became a famous teacher of pupils such as Giovanni Paisiello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Niccolo Piccinni, to name only a few. By all accounts, Durante was dedicated to his students’ welfare and education. Durante was, in turn, always spoken very highly of by his pupils. Unusually among Neapolitan composers, Durante had little interest in writing operas, although he did compose sacred dramas and secular as well as sacred cantatas. He made a name for himself chiefly in the devotional and liturgical genres of his day. Despite the dominance in his list of compositions of religious works, he also wrote a large number of successful harpsichord sonatas and toccatas, and eight Concerti per quartetto.

The uncertain history of Danza, danza fanciulla

Schirmer Edtion

Two popular arias attributed to Durante are published in anthologies of Italian songs – “Arie Antiche” collected by 19th century editors. Vergin, tutto amor and Danza, danza fanciulla are perhaps the only works for which Durante is still recognized. This is ironic since in his catalogue they would not hold a very esteemed place incomparison to the larger works and educational volumes he produced. In all probability they were only “solfeggios” or “singing exercises” to which elaborate accompaniment and text were added in the nineteenth century. He wrote many didactic works and even in non-didactic compositions there are signs in the actual printed scores that reveal the master-teacher at work. For example, in some of the masses elements of the plainchant or canon were marked as such for the edification of the student/performer. (Rachael Unite, All Music Guide )

Performance practice in Durante’s “Arie Antiche”

Ricordi Edition sold by Hal Leonard publ.

Given that the originals are now lost, performers have to rely on performing versions created and commissioned by 19th century publishers. Some of the editorial suggestions are appropriate, and without these wonderful “recreations” these melodies might have been lost for ever. However, one can not ignore the fact that when you hear these works performed, you are listening to a twenty-first century “imagining” of what the a 19th century editor (and therefore “minor” composer/arranger”) imagined what an 18th century composition might have sounded like. There is no saying that even the choice of text would carry the blessing of Signore Durante. There is no guarantee that the tempo indication given in the 19th century would be appropriate to a sound-world already a century old. In fact, apart form the melody, most of what we find in the published editions of this song, were added by other hands.

The metronome marking and the tempo indication of “Allegro con Spirito” are not Durante’s at all. The metronome had not even been invented yet, for a start. Singers have to interpret the song with the text as a starting point. Let’s forget for a moment that the text was not chosen – or set – by the composer, and accept its validity as a document. Given the lightness of the text – the references to delicate and playful breezes and rustling sounds of nature – the metronome marking given by the editors seems too fast and virtuosic. At 138 to a beat a whirling dervish is conjured rather than a simple “twirling lightly and softly to the sound”. Yet singers revel in the virtuosic display that the fast tempo affords. Thrilling as this might be, it makes the piece little more than a coat-hanger on which to hang an elaborate costume.

A delicate Baroque spinet

The piano used for accompaniment had not been invented yet when Durante wrote the melody. Even the dynamic indications are not “authentic” as it was a convention of the Baroque not to mark changes of volume – partly because instruments such as the spinet could only play at one dynamic level. Others, such as a harpsichord or organ, could not gradually change volume, but could only jump from one level to the next (“terrace dynamics”), given some technological device such as adding a few more strings or pipes.

 

What are performers in 2010 to do? 

– Play it on the harpsichord or spinet? 

"Self portrait at the spinet" - Lavinia Fontana 1577

This would recreate the keyboard sounds that Durante had available in his time. (But we do not have a harpsichord in our concert.) We are not even sure that it was actually written for a harpsichord. A spinet is unpractical in modern concerts as it is simply not loud enough to be heard properly more than a few feet away, let alone in a concert hall.

– Play it on a piano and imitate the harpsichord?

This is acceptable practice for keyboard works such as those by Bach and Scarlatti. Crisp articulation and not using the sustaining pedal, are used as techniques that outline the architecture of these works.

Here is a YouTube Clip of the piano accompaniment as it is published, recorded without a singer. This “Music Minus One” version illustrates the issues with the piano accompaniment as it stands. Pedals, legato double octaves and long sustained chords are used in abundance. None of these are technical devices employed in the Baroque – especially not on keyboard instruments.

Click here to listen to Danza, danza fanciulla (Piano Accompaniment Only)

In the case of Durante’s song and its “Arie Antiche” colleagues,  the accompaniments were composed in the 19th century with the piano and its technical abilities in mind – such as volume change and sustaining pedals – declaring any claims at authenticity totally bogus. One would have to recompose the accompaniment to make that possible, at the very least cutting out some of the very low notes or doubling which would have been impractical in the Baroque era.

Appropriate singing style in Durante’s Danza, Danza Fanciulla

As for the singer, do they attempt vibrato-less baroque-style singing of limited volume and dramatic expression? Many modern recordings use Baroque-style re-orchestrations. These charming pastiche versions have their own validity, but they are stylistic anachronisms. Dmitri Hvorostovsky – winner of the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World competition – is one of the leading operatic baritones of his generation. His Aria Antiche  album was one of his biggest hits. The accompaniments on this CD are all modern orchestrations, and are certainly effective. But they are nonetheless a 20th century “imagining” of 19th century Baroque style. As for “barihunk” Dmitri: his vocal swagger – impressive as it may be – is probably very far removed from what singers in the Baroque era would have sounded like. The full-throated chest voice is an invention of the romantic era just as surely as the media invention of the barihunk is a 21st century phenomenon. In all likelyhood Danza, danza fanciulla  would have been sung by a decidedly unvirile castrato. Given the church’s prohibition on women singing in church, Durante would no doubt have had a stable of castrated boys at his diposal to sing his sacred works. This song was very probably composed for one of these children unfortunately cursed with musical talent.

Click here to listen to Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing Durante’s Danza, danza fanciulla.

Click here to listen to Christiaan d’Hooghe –  a countenor the closest thing we have today to a Castrato sound – singing Durante’s other famous Aria Antiche Vergin Tutto amor.

Restoration versus recreation

Michelangelo's "Daniel" Before & After restoration (Sistine Chapel)

Questions facing performers of this type of work is similar to those facing art historians when dealing with the prospect of restoring works from the past. The recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel is very controversial. The results of the cleaning were quite extreme. The colours that emerged after the restoration were quite startlingly different from what we had become accustomed to. Colours were surprisingly bright. Some might even say garish and gaudy. Our picture of the enchanting rotund angels floating in clouds of light pink, has changed dramatically and many books on the art of Michelangelo have had to be revised, some even rewritten.

As always, the experts are divided on the results.

A journey into history

The interesting part is that this modern restoration attempt was not the first. Already in 1625, a restoration was carried out by Simone Lagi, the Vatican’s “resident gilder”, who wiped the ceiling with linen cloths and cleaned it by rubbing it with bread. He occasionally resorted to wetting the bread to remove the more stubborn accretions. His report states that the frescoes “were returned to their previous beauty without receiving any harm”. Lagi also applied layers of glue-varnish to revive the colours. Between 1710 and 1713 a further restoration was carried out by the painter Annibale Mazzuoli and his son. They used sponges dipped in Greek wine (with a very high acidity similar to vinegar) which was necessitated by the accretion of grime caused by soot and dirt trapped in the oily deposits of the previous restoration. Mazzuoli then worked over the ceiling, according to an “eye-witness report” (by now almost 300 years old) to deliberately strengthen the contrasts by over-painting details. They also repainted some areas the colours of which were lost because of the efflorescence of salts caused by the salpetre leaks from the roof above the ceiling. So, to be fair, we have absolutely no way of telling if the recent renovations restores the Sistine Chapel to its original state as Michelangelo conceived it, or if it has been restored to the sate in which it was left are being cleaned with wet bread, or after parts had been repainted by Annibale Mazzuoli.

Bril's Landscape at San Silvestro before it was restored

Another equally startling restoration of Baroque fresco-painting is the restored paintings of Flemish Master Paul Bril in the San Silvestro Chapel at Rome’s Sancta Sanctorium. Bril’s work has only seriously entered the conscious realm of art-historian endeavour since this project revealed the extent of his achievement. Funded by the John Paul Getty Foundation, over 1.700 square meters of wall space was restored by forty art restorers and experts. Project leader Maurizio De Luca, who also oversaw the recent restoration of the Pauline Chapel by Michelangelo inside the Vatican, sates confidently: “Like any good restoration, it is invisible.”

Some might beg to differ.

Technically it was a stunningly complex restoration process: deep fissures risked bringing down whole patches of painted ceiling plaster, and inside the chapel with its high, vaulted ceiling the painted walls and ceiling were literally obliterated by four centuries of accumulated candle grease and grime. Only the faintest traces of the paintings remained, and all colors and themes were literally lost to time, and hence forgotten. The restorers painstakingly removed one layer of dirt, then waited to see the result before tackling the next.

Brils' landscape in the San Silvestro: After restoration

 The results are rather startling. The colours are extremely bright and direct. If this is what Baroque frescoes really looked like, who is to say we don’t also have the wrong idea of how Baroque music is supposed to have sounded?

My task as coach and accompanist for this “Aria Antiche” is therefore not so simple. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Recreating a supposed baroque-style is not possible: the instrument I play is a 9 foot concert grand piano made of steel and wood, not a delicate little spinet. To attempt to play the piece in a technically “clean” manner, sheared of rubato and other agogic responses accumulated in subsequent centuries – to the text as well as the harmonies – would seem perverse: like washing the original in vinegar. By the same token, I feel that simply following the romantic indications – not to mention the thick octaves and large chords in the accompaniment – is the equivalent of centuries’ worth of accumulated oil, soot and grime. I am not sure I am in the market for recomposing the accompaniment, to attemtp a compromise. Not yet, anyway.

In preparing a performance I shall attempt neither to wash the original with wet bread nor vinegar. The key – of course – is the singer. This work will be sung by Violina Angeulov, a superb mezzo-soprano trained at the UCT Opera School by Sarita Stern. As we work on the programme in the next couple of weeks, I am sure we shall do our own restoration and recreation of “Danza, danza fanciulla”. We have no idea what we might yet discover. Perhaps we will dance to Durante’s tune. Or perhaps we won’t. We might just dance our own dance, to the sounds carried on the wind down through the centuries. And how we dance, depends entirely on what we choose to hear. And who knows which voices will be whispering in our ears?

Violina Anguelov (mezzo-soprano) CV

Violina was born in Bulgaria. She obtained her Performer’s Diploma in Opera with distinction as well as Honours Degree in Singing (First Class) from the University of Cape Town under voice teacher Sarita Stern. She has been awarded the Adcock Ingram Music Prize, the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize and Erik Chisholm Prize.

She made her European operatic début as Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte in Hanover, Germany, in 2000. Her South African operatic début was as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro with Cape Town Opera in 1999. Since then she has sung, just to mention a few,  roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Fenena in Nabucco, Marguerite in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, Ruggiero in Alcina, Nerone in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Hänsel in Hänsel and Gretel, Idamante in Idomeneo, Orlofski in Die Fledermaus, Mrs. Roland in the One Act One Woman opera Dark sonnet by Erik Chisholm in celebration of 100 years of the composers birth, Elisetta in Il Matrimonio Segreto at the Pretoria State Theatre. She has been invited twice to perform for Opera Africa in the roles of, Romeo in I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini performed in Pretoria State Theatre and Amneris in Aida by Verdi performed both in the Pretoria State Theatre and Johanneburg Civic Theatre. She also sang the as Third Lady in Mozart’s Magic Flute a production directed by William Kentridge. This production was performed in Cape Town Opera House and Civic Theatre Johannesburg. Her latest appearances include the roles of Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Mrs Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking both productions of Cape Town Opera.

She has a vast repertoire of sacred works: Coronation Mass by Mozart, Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, Gloria by Vivaldi, St. Theresa Mass by Haydn, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and 9th Symphony, Bach’s Easter Oratorio as well as St. Johan’s and St. Matthews Passions, L’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz, Elijah by Mendelssohn and Verdi Requiem. She has worked with conductors such as: Doctor Barry Smith, Arnold Bosman, Chris Dowdeswell, Doctor Donald Hunt, Richard Cock and Kamal Khan.

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.comTango Club – CT Tango Ensemble launch their new CD: Baxter Concert Hall 23 March 2010, 8pm

“Close your eyes and Listen”. The opening track on Tango Club – the CT Tango Ensemble’s new CD – invites you to do just that. But you will be forgiven for keeping your eyes open during the CD Launch performance to be held at the Baxter Concert Hall, 23 March 2010, at 8 pm. Featuring dancers as well as the music played by the group, the evening promises to be a display of tango virtuosity – a feast for the eyes and ears. The group has been polishing its tango shoes for over a decade and has attracted media attention and radio and television airtime throughout South Africa, and as far afield as Buenos Aires and Bulgaria. They have been seen on stage and in concert halls throughout the country, at all the major festivals such as Aardklop, Grahamstown and Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees. The four musicians, Stanislav Anguelov (Accordion and Bandoneon), Albert Combrink (Piano), Jacek Domagala (Violin) and Charles Lazar (Double Bass) are all classically trained but all have played in cross-over and jazz fields, making them ideal for interpreting the special Latin feel of the Tango. Guest artists from the CD will join the ensemble in the Launch Spectacular at the Baxter Concert Hall. Acclaimed musicians James Grace (Guitar), Willie van Zyl (Saxophone) and Kevin Gibson (drums) were guest artists on the album and will bring their special magic to the Launch.

The latest CD is a new departure for the CT Tango Ensemble. The music is funkier and more modern than their very popular previous CD El Tango en Africa – which caused such a stir in the local music industry and tango community when it was first released. The new CD includes music by Astor Piazzolla, the “father” of Argentinean “Tango Nuevo “. This ensemble has made a name for itself as a leading interpreter of Piazzolla in various shows: Heinrich Riesenhofer’s El Beso – The Kiss (Little Theatre – with choreography by Mareli Schröter), Marthinus Basson’s Tango Del Fuego (Oude Libertas etc.) and even on eTv’s Backstage where they performed with TangoCapeTown’s Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich. Shows such as The Tango Experience and All you ever wanted to know about Tango but were too afraid to ask, written and directed by Mark Hoeben, took the Tango Ensemble as far afield as Namibia, giving them many opportunites to learn the particular styles of music found in the wide genre of Tango.

Stanislav Anguelov has even performed Piazzolla’s classical Bandoneon Concerto with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Very exciting news is that the CD includes original music composed by members of the Ensemble. Anguelov’s Tango Made in Africa was the pivotal composition for the group’s first CD, which explored the links between African and Latin American Music and included Dizu Plaatjies on the Djembe Drum. The latest CD introduces more Jazz and pop elements with the inclusion of instruments such as the Saxophone and a Drumkit. Anguelov’s pieces combine the styles of traditional tango with more contemporary language. His Addios has been a firm favourite whenever they perform it live. The track, Cape Town Tango, celebrates Anguelov’s “transplant” from Bulgaria to the Cape of Good Hope – which has seen him share the stage with superstars Queen and Sir Bob Geldof at the 2003 Nelson Mandela 46664 Concert. The song is infused with a Cape Town Jazz feel, and is set to be one of the hits from the new disc.

The CD also features the vocals of Argentine-born South African Adriana Edwards, currently living in Japan. Anguelov’s song Tango Club was commissioned by the Movie Director Christopher Rodrigues for his film The First and Last Loves of Leonardo Lopes. Hence the lyrics by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated into Spanish by vocalist Adriana) were chosen by the director to suit the characters & scene in the film. Originally the song was intended for one scene only but after hearing the composition Christopher fell in love with this song and used section from it a few times in the film. Music of the CT Tango Ensemble was used throughout the film.

Berklee College of Music Graduate Charles Lazar composed two songs for the disc. Temperance features the beautiful guitar solos of James Grace. Lazar’s pieces are the most Jazz-influenced on the disc. His jazz experience makes a critical contribution to the ensemble. Drummer Kevin Gibson and jazz saxophonist Willie van Zyl are the other guest artists who bring a funky jazz style to the new CD

Jacek Domagala, who also plays First Violin with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, brings classical virtuosity to the earthiness of the Tango. Domagala and Anguelov perform often as a duo with a Mediterranean flavor, and his style his perfectly suited to both the poplar and the classical elements of this music.

Albert Combrink is a pianist who works in a variety of genres, both as classical pianist and popular musician and has been seen on stages around the country. He is also the arranger of some material on the disc.

The Launch of Tango Club will be held on the stage of the Baxter Concert Hall, with LIVE DANCING. CD’s will be on sale after the show.

Booking through computicket.

Tickets: R95 adults, R85 Student and pensioner’s discount

CD’s for sale at LAUNCH SPECIAL PRICE: R100 each

Stanislav Anguelov

Jacek Domagala

Jacek Domagala

Charles Lazar

Albert Combrink

Kevin Gibson on drums

James Grace appears courtesy of Stringwise Records

Willie vanZyl

Adriana Edwards

Ensemble Photos by Jenny Altschuler

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

TANGO CLUB, the new CD by the CT Tango Ensemble, includes a performance of Payadora, one of the most famous tangos written by Julian Plaza. The drama and rhythmic drive of this work is irresistible, and we have had a wonderful time performing it live on many occasions. It never fails to attract dancers to the dance-floor.

The music of Argentinean composer Julian Plaza (1928-2003) has a special place in the history of Tango.  Plaza was an all-round musician. He was bandoneon-player and pianist for some of Argentina’s top orchestras in the late 1940’s including the legendary ensembles of Carlos di Sarli and Osvaldo Pugliese. As arranger of existing tangos, he honed his craft in the 1950’s, working with the tango giants such as Anibal Troilo and Osvaldo Pugliese. Plaza left a canon of very fine and original tangos. He was influenced by Piazzolla and the Tango Nuevo. Which tanguero was not? But Plaza was not drawn into the heady world of Tango Nuevo. Instead, Plaza  was determined that the Tango should not stray too far from its roots as “dance music”. During his association with the music of Pugliese – a composer who more than hinted at the avant-garde that would be unleashed on the tango in the 1950s – he undoubtedly absorbed a taste for jarring harmonies and aggressive cross-rhythms. His music is spicy with cross rhythms and dissonance, but remains dance music per excellence.

Payadora is a delightful mixture of old and new. This uninhibited milonga has an obsessive rhythm that only abates for a moment, before it is off for another whirl around the dance-floor. The sharp accents in the rhythm and the spicy chords, both depict and inspire sharp stabs of the shoe, and those delightful moves where the leader “blocks” the foot of the follower in a sharp and percussive movement.

In our recording on TANGO CLUB we recreate the atmosphere of the dance-hall. We do not use a drummer on this track, as the style does not seem to call for that kind of groove. We all hit and tap the basic rhythm of this fast Milonga on various parts of our instrument. This serves to announce the type of dance to the audience, they can instantly decide if they are in the mood for a fast whirl around the floor, and the man can spot the woman of his choice. The music starts with an optimistic run up the scale, immediately dissolving into a short little oasis where there is hardly any definable rhythm. Here, the dancers take up their position, clasp hands and “tune in” to one another in the close embrace of the Argentinean Tango. The leader “tests” the balance of his follower, making sure he or she is prepared for which foot the leader will be stepping from.

Suddenly the focus shifts from the intimacy of a couple connecting intimately, to the larger view of the entire room. With a two-beat flourish, the Milonga takes off. The leader chooses his direction, and off we go on a whirl around the floor. In the space of a few bars of music, a very complex set of social structures have fallen into place. Decisions were made. Body language was read. Partners were chosen, accepted and whisked away.  All in the magnificent language of the music, the body, the tango.

You can read more about how the milonga is danced, and watch video examples of this, in a delightful “Tango Jargon” blog by “Scott and Niki”.

Where does the Milonga come from?

The term Milonga can refer to a style of South American music (Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil in particular). It is also the name of the dance that preceded the tango. Places or events at which the tango or Milonga are danced can also be called milongas.

The term milonga comes from a similar expression that means “lyrics”. The Milonga is also derived from singing and originated in the Río de la Plata area of Argentina and Uruguay. A Payadora is an “itinerant singer” or wandering minstrel”, so the title of Plaza’s tango refers also to its vocal history.

Forms of European dance-music such as the Polka, made their way to Argentina with emigrants and was extremely popular in the 1870s. The song was set to a lively 2/4 tempo, and often included musical improvisation. Over time, dance steps and other musical influences were added, eventually giving rise to the tango.

Macho Milonga

A Buenos Aires street corner c1910

In the first decade of the 20th Century, men outnumbered women in Buenos Aires by 8 to 1. Both licensed and unlicensed prostitution was rife in the port city. Women with whom to experience the pleasures of the body (dancing included) were at a premium. When some of the more respected members of society visited the brothels – viewed as a necessary evil given the circumstances – musicians were sometimes asked to blindfold themselves, to protect the identity, if not the “dignity” of the customer. I suspect that this practice of playing sightless, might also have influenced the musical development of the Milonga style. The phrases and chords make physical sense in a way that many other tango styles do not. Even the trickier milongas have a physical character in the basic material that leans itself to small movements on the piano. This somehow encourages one to invent little variants on the themes.

Mark Hoeben & Ina Wichterich

To illustrate exactly this part of the Tango’s history, the CT TANGO ENSEMBLE have in fact performed a Milonga blindfolded at the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees. All You ever Wanted To Know About Tango But Were Too Afraid To Ask, scripted and directed by Mark Hoeben, ran to sold out houses at the KKNK and the “Blindfolded Tango” was one of the highlights of the show. It was quite a showpiece for our ensemble, in which our group – of four men – realized that while we were showing off in the best possible way, we also “danced” with each other in the way we make music together.

Marthinus Basson won a Fleur du Cap Best Director award in 2002 for the show, Tango Del Fuego – “a boundary-defying history of tango filled with the form’s founding impetus of rapine colonialism, forced removal and slavery.” (Darryl Accone – Artslink.co.za)

Starring the cream of South African Theatre such as Nicole Holm and the magnificent ensemble of Antoinette Kellermann and David Minnaar, it ran at all the major arts festivals in South Africa. The music – the glue which unified the show, was provided by the CT Tango Ensemble. The multi-talented Maxwell Xolani-Rani paid homage to the slave-roots of the Tango by dancing a Milonga with a drum. The energy of that dance by a solo black male – dancing with and occasionally playing on the drum – was one of the highlights of the show. This work also exploited the same-sex tango duo. Again choreography and improvisation mingled in the work of Mark Hoeben and Jaco Bouwer to create a riveting tension. Aggressive sexuality, violence, testosterone, crimes of passion. These primal energies certainly float around the psyche of male tango dancers – if not males in general.

Two men practising their steps

The Milonga then became the calling card of the macho male: only the best (male) dancers were “allowed” to dance with women, both socially, and as part of the formal procedures in the brothels. (Only in 1936 was legal prostitution abolished in Argentina). There is a well accepted tradition of same-sex tango Men practiced furiously with other men. And in the brothels, ladies were taught to dance by the other more experienced ladies. In Tango Del Fuego, the scene in which Ina Wichterich, taking the role of the older and wiser woman, teaches the rules of tango to inexperienced youth played by Nicole Holm, was poignant and touching.

Other useful links:

Watch Tanguero Anton Gazenbeek dance a magnificent solo tango with two sticks at a Milonga in New York.

Watch New York Tangueros Anton Gazenbeek and Sergio Segura dance an all-male duo tango at the same Milonga in New York.

Free Sheet Music of Julian Plaza can be downloaded at www.todotango.com.

Read more about West Hollywood dancer Steve Valentine’s same-sex ballroom dancing programme HERE.

All-male tango energy: Steve Valentine and Partner

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

La Muerte del Angel (The Death of the Angel) is one of Astor Piazzolla’s works that has been arranged in various guises, by Piazzolla himself, and by others. The Cape Town Tango Ensemble’s new CD Tango Club features my arrangement.

Astor Piazzolla wrote Tangos that cover an astonishing musical range. Music for over 40 films share his catalogue  with dance music “concert tangos”  and symphonic works such as the Bandoneon Concerto. From solo flute to jazz ensembles to full symphony orchestra, Piazzolla continually pushed the boundaries of his musical language. He was a classically trained musician, so many of his arrangements of his own works are written out in such a way that a classical ensemble could perform them. His period of study in France with the world famous composition teacher Nadia Boulanger reflected his lifelong interest in “serious” music. However, in his quest to rejuvenate the traditional dance tango, he incorporated the improvisations of Jazz, and the atonal experiments of the avant garde classical composers of the 20th century. The resulting Tango Nuevo (New Tango) is an exhilarating world where improvisation in the heat of the moment joins hands with strict rules of classical music in an intoxicating dance.

The written musical scores are often deceptively simple. Below is a sample of the skeleton piano score of La Muerte del Angel sold by Tonos Publishers. (Click on the score to view enlarged version.)

La Muerte del Angel - the skeleton score

This page forms the A section: rhythmic, incisive, aggressive. It is followed by a reflective, inward-looking B section with a laid-back, smokey jazz feeling. Two pages only. It is so simple one might be forgiven for dismissing it. Yet the seeds for a magnificent creation are contained in these two simple pages. The art lies in how this skeleton is transformed into a fully-fledged piece of music. Piazzolla made various arrangements of the work and each time he performed it, the improvisations were different.

Piazzolla and the Fugue: “TANGUIFICATED”

A fugue is a theme that chases a duplicate of itself

One of the formal classical styles Piazzolla used to particularly dramatic effect, is the Fugue. The word “Fugue” means “to chase” and that is almost literally the implication of the way in which the entries of the main fugue theme “chase” one another. With Piazzolla’s trademark rhythmic drive – bordering on obsessive compulsive – his fugues are particularly exciting. In a 1989 interview Piazzolla told Gonzalo Saaverda (transl. David Taylor):

But my main style is to have studied. If I had not, I would not be doing what I do, what I’ve done. Because everybody thinks that to do a ‘modern tango’ is to make noise, is to make strange thoughts, and no, that’s not true! You have to go a little deeper, and you can see that what I do is very elaborate. If I do a fugue in the manner of Bach, it will always be “tanguificated”.

James Waller: Fugue Icon Cycle (www.jameswaller.org)

And tanguified they are. While they are not rigorously worked out fugues in the style of Bach, his 18 month period of intense study of four-part harmony is evident in his ease of handling the fugal style. All Piazzolla’s fugues are fast and furious. He seemed to revel in the “thrill of the chase” afforded by this style of writing. Bringing in a theme for a second time, before the first play-through of it has ended, builds tremendous excitement and tension.

A Tango “FUGUIFICATED”: The challenge of “Post-Piazzollism”

"Autumn Fugue" (jnm_ua on flickr.com)

"Autumn Fugue" (jnm_ua on flickr.com)

I wanted to arrange this work myself, as much as hommage to Piazzolla and my passion for his music, and as an attempt to realise some of the sounds that the work conjured in my imagination. “Post-Piazzollism” is both the legacy of this great master, as well as the challenge for any musician treading this holy ground. In my arrangement, I did not use Piazzolla’s Fugue version of La Muerte del Angel as the starting point, but chose to attempt to create something new. There was something in the theme that just seemed to call for a “chase”. Whenever we performed this work in the past, we would work only off the piano score: each instrument embellishes and improvises around the basic structure.  Elements of Jazz enter the world of classically trained musicians, are we improvise “on the fly”.

Twyla Tharp's "The Fugue" danced at Juilliard (Photo: Rosalie O'Connor)

In some of our more confident concerts the fugue just seemed to sneak in all the time. Something about the harmony was so logically suited to imitation, that somehow it always turned into a fugue of sorts. I also enjoyed the virtuosity of the material, and having another keyboardist in the form of the accordion in the ensemble in addition to the violin, was just too good to resist. Various orchestral versions of this work exist. The many instruments in an orchestra make the composition of a fugue a more direct procedure than allowing a quartet or quintet of musicians to “improvise fugally” at will. While some of our improvisations were thrilling and on the edge, occasionally there was just a bit too much fugality for our own good. I felt the need to limit some of the artistic decisions we took on the spur of the moment, by writing down, and thus containing, some of the fugal elements. Naturally, this limited possibility for improvisation, for all the musicians in the ensemble. In the process, I killed off some of the potential “discoveries” we might still have stumbled upon in a fiery performance. But perhaps this sacrifice was for the greater good of the performance as a whole.

Virgin Sacrifice in Piazzolla and Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps meets Tango

Aysem Sunal and Priit Kripson in Le Sacre du Printemps, with choreography by the legendary Mauricio Wainrot. (Paul De Backer)

Ritual slaughter of innocent victims for the good of the greater community, is an archetypal event common to humanity:

Aslan, the titular animal in C.S. Lewis’ 1950 book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , is a good exmple. The Christian Bible abounds in tales of Human Sacrifice, in adition to the obvious metaphor of Christ. Even a modern film aimed at a youth market such as Ice Age 3 has a Sloth Sacrifice Ceremony. Sid the Sacrificial Sloth, narrowly escapes certain death in the heart of a volcano, simply by virtue of his own innocence (some might say stupidity turned vritue). Piazzolla’s work on the death of the angel is definitely cut from the same psychic cloth.

La Muerte del Angel was created for Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s 1962 stage play Tango del Angel, in which an angel heals the spirits of the residents of a shabby Buenos Aires neighbourhood. Munoz required a narrative suite that encompassed a story of innocence, deceit, violence and death, and reconciliation. The death of the angel is required for the purification of the humans. The drive and aggression in this work reminded me a lot of another famous ritual Virgin Sacrifice. Stravinsky’s earliest conception of The Rite of Spring was in the spring of 1910, in the form of a dream: “… the wise elders are seated in a circle and are observing the dance before death of the girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence.”

The record cover for Seiji Ozawa's recording of "Le Sacre du Printemps"

For many, Le Sacre represents the explosion of the tonal and rhythmic anarchy of the 20th century. To me – given the 20/20 vision afforded by a hundred years’ human rhythmic endeavour –  large sections of it seem eminently danceable. My experiences of intense music making with the CT Tango Ensemble – either by ourselves in concert or in the sacred space of the rapt improvisations or choreography of various dancers – has given some of our performances and element of ritual. The primal ritual of human sacrifice resonated with me when playing Piazzolla’s angel sacrifice. I fear I identified with both the victim and the aggressor. As composers both Stravinsky and Piazzolla are able to depict violence and aggression. Perhaps for that very reason, the music of the victim is all the more poignant.

In making the arrangement I felt that the sound of the violin is often the voice that speaks for both Piazzolla’s and Stravinsky’s sacrificial victims. Therefore the violin has a rhapsodic cadenza linking the violence of the chase with the contemplation of the angel.

"Salome" (Aubrey Beardsley). Another sacrificial victim in which the Pure Eve and the Fallen Eve are draped in the same veil

While the concept of an angel implies purity and virginity, the sensual nature of Piazzolla’s melodic material more than hints at carnal desires. The eroticism of the melody is irresistible and undeniable. The eroticism of the tango is likewise not to be disputed.  In his Tango Operita Maria de Buenos Aires, Piazzolla created the character of Maria as an allegory for the tango itself: death and resurrection, the fall from grace, transcendence.

I tried to bring these apparent contradictions to bear on this arrangement. I enjoyed the ambivalence of melodies that can change perspective from the hunted victim to the hunter. The violence projected through the Tango rhythms and Stravinsky’s pungent harmonies just seemed to fit together. Archetypal concepts float around in the ether. The last gasp of the victim before the final chord of death, an accordion melody symbolising both the spiritual purity and the carnal knowledge of the angel. But most importantly, making the arrangement was a delightful experiment. I tried to expand my definition of both Stravinsky and Piazzolla, and explore a link between them in the collective subconscious. In the process I had a lot of fun.

Free Piazzolla Scores can be downloaded from www.todotango.com. This site is Tango-Nirvana!

Stravinsky on his arrest in "the land of the free" for adding a different harmony to "The Star Spangled Banner"

For more on Stravinsky’s approach to rhythmic rebellion, see On the rhythm of “The Rite of Spring” by Edward Green. Stravinsky was not only rhythmically rebellious. He was arrested in Boston for changing the harmonies of The Star Spangled Banner. Apparently this law still exists in America, forbidding  reharmonisation of this anthem. This law has not been as strictly enforced in recent years. Marvin Gaye even created a reggae version (for which he was not arrested).

Links to more about the Cape Town Tango Ensemble:

Milonga del Angel-Cape Town Tango Ensemble Dancing with Angels

CT Tango Ensemble Homepage

Astor Piazzolla: Cobble Stone to Dance Floor

CT Tango Ensemble MP3’s and Video Clips

Download tracks from our first CD El Tango en Africa on Rhythm Records

"Tango Nuevo I" - Pedro Alvarez

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

In the darkness there is rustling sound. Feathers perhaps? Wings? Then I hear a heart beat,  a heel scraping on the floor. I have my hands inside the black Steinway, my fingers and nails scraping the metal strings. Behind me, Stanislav is tapping a steady rhythm against the buttons of his bandoneon. The Double bass unobtrusively takes over the heart-beat rhythm. I pull my hands out of the piano and sit down. I reach for the first exposed notes. Bare. Glassy. Transparent. With each note the scene starts coming into focus. With the minimum movement, and hardly any notes, we have painted a dance floor, set the lighting, perfected the colour scheme. Then out of the darkness the bandoneon starts to sing. And with that sound –  the collective memory of the soul of Argentina –  Piazzolla’s Angel begins to dance her Milonga.

Milonga del Angel (Dance of the Angel) was one of the first Piazzolla tangos the Cape Town Tango Ensemble performed and we have been playing this work for almost a decade. We have played it in many shows and concerts and have decided that the time is right to record it on our latest CD – Tango Club.

"Tango Nuevo II" - Pedro Alvarez

Milonga del Angel (Dance of the Angel) forms part of a cycle of Angel works Piazzolla initially created for a stage production. The Four pieces  are:

i) Introduccion al Angel (The introduction of the Angel)

ii) Milonga del Angel (Dance of the Angel)

iii) La Muerte del Angel (Death of the Angel) and

iv) La Resurreccion Del Angel (The Resurrection of the Angel).

The works were not all composed together. For Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s 1962 stage play Tango del Angel, in which an angel heals the spirits of the residents of a shabby Buenos Aires neighbourhood, Piazzolla added new pieces to an earlier tango that gave the play its name. Munoz required a narrative suite that encompassed a story of innocence, deceit, violence and death, and reconciliation.

Angels form a strong motif in the works of Astor Piazzolla, Argentinean maestro of the Tango Nuevo. In Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir Natalia Gorin quotes Piazzolla: “I have to tell the most absolute truth. I could make it a story about angels, but that would not be the whole story. Mine is of devils mixed with angels.” Milonga del Angel sums up much of the change that Piazzolla brought about in Tango music. In our concerts, the Cape Town Tango Ensemble often play a “traditional” milonga form the early part of the century and juxtapose it with our beloved angel. Based on the candombe rhythm – itself reflecting the Habanera – Piazzolla turns away from the structures of the popular dance tangos. There are no simple AB or ABA structures, no choruses that return and no varied repeats. The work flows in a continuous sweep. An intense tone-poem, the work shows many of Piazzolla’s strongest trademark gestures. Repeated pedal notes that stay the same while the harmonies change overhead, create delicious tensions and exquisitely tender resolutions. A casual and fluent approach to chromatic shifts conjure seductive textures.

The Piazzolla influenced by modern 20th century composers such as Stravinsky and Bartok is also to be felt, especially in the final build up of the work. Exquisite dissonances and powerful harmonic movements make the resolution of this tango one of Piazzolla’s most poignant.

The Cape Town Tango Ensemble recording of Milonga del Angel uses Piazzolla’s own arrangement for Quintet as a starting point. Piano, Bandoneon, Guitar, Violin and Double Bass work together to create an orchestra of tremendous variety. We have performed this work in various permutations, from Duet for Piano and Bandoneon or Accordion only, to a sextet adding a second violin and guitar. With each different configuration, my experience of playing this work is different.

“The Zen Of Tango”

When performing without a Double Bass, the responsibility for the rhythmic drive lies strongly with myself, the pianist. The deep bass notes provide the basic rhythm of the milonga throughout – the heartbeat of the angel. When I have to play the bass, of physical necessity I can focus less on the melodic material. Often, while the violin and bandoneon are soaring in the heavens with the angels, – while I keep the “engine” going in the bass – I feel more than a twinge of jealousy. Which musician with a heart would not be touched by that exquisite melody? At the same time, the responsibility for the bass part gives me a very different experience of the work: I understand the structure better, experience the harmonies very directly. I feel the harmonic rhythm and how it is so closely linked to the pulse. The rhythm is so primal, that occasionally it is enough to propel the structure of the music forward, by itself, uncluttered by ornamental melodies.

At other times, when the Bass is taken care of by an actual Double Bass player, I am taken aback by how transparent the sound of the bass notes can be, as compared to playing it on the piano. Ironically, by adding another instrument the texture becomes thinner, and if anything the overall volume even becomes less, as one spends more time listening than playing. My approach as the pianist is to add what is needed only when it is needed. When instruments are “absent”, the piano has to take on a structural function, filling in the rhythm, making sure no melodic bits go missing. But in a larger ensemble, I sit back and listen. Only then can I create something that adds to what is there already.

Guitarist James Grace

For the recording of this track on Tango Club, we invited guitarist James Grace to fill out the Quintet for which Piazzolla had originally composed this work. Mostly we perform concerts – and this work – without a guitarist. This “absent voice” frees me to make creative arrangements that combine the melodic material of both the guitar-part and the piano-part. Both instruments can create melody as well as chords. The piano wins out on power and being able to sustain sounds through that wonderfully convenient device called the “pedal”. However, the guitar adds a unique quality that the piano can not. A plucked sound that clearly delineates  the beginning of each note, is unique to instruments such as the guitar or the harp. The sound is translucent – simply because the instrument can not sustain the vibrations that long. This brings a new delicacy to Milonga del Angel, and to me, who has now been performing this work in various guises for almost a decade, it suddenly is brand new, fresh and created anew.

I even feel a sense of “ownership” over some of the passages. At one point guitarist James had to play a modulation that I would usually have been taken by the piano. And he had the temerity to do it differently to the way I did it! Being my tactful self, I obviously informed him of the “correct” way to play it, and –  dear man – he did it my way. well, as close as he could, given the rather obtuse or even inaccurate descriptions we musicians are forced to use in the world of conventional language. Almost “right” But not quite. He is a wonderful musician with many years’ experience of different styles of music, and in the end, those influences reflected in how he played that three note change of harmony. It is not surprising at all that two mature performers would have a different response to the same chord, and two different interpretations. What is surprising though, is my sense of ownership of that bar! I however managed to relinquish control of those three notes, and for better or for worse, that is how they stand on the CD!

Stanislav Anguelov

Stanislav Anguelov used to perform this work on the accordeon – not the traditional instrement used in Argentina for the Tango. He is stylistically so acute that many Argentinians believe he plays on the bandoneon when in fact he plays the accordion. Yet, in his dedication to the Tango genre, he bought himself a bandoneon – “a devilish and crazy instrument”. He has taught himself this instrument that is notoriously hard to learn and perform on. He even flew to Buenos Aires for lessons. When the bandoneon starts the “Song of the Angel” after the brief moody introduction, the sound is unlike any other you can imagine. The bandoneon is like a voice. It can breathe, tremble, cry, and whisper. Certainly, the transition form performing it with the instrument of Stanislav’s primary virtuosity – the Accordion – to his secondary instrument – the Bandoneon – was difficult for the ensemble. We had to be more careful never to push the tempo. We had to be a little bit more deliberate about making certain transitions. But in the end, the struggle taught us more respect for each individual element that makes up this masterpiece.

Violinist Jacek Domagala

When a group knows a work this well, and have played together so often that we have even performed on stage BLINDFOLDED to demonstrate our levels of awareness, there is a danger of simply clocking in another play-through. We never want to simply replay well-rehearsed work we could play in our sleep. As a study exercise – and to sharpen our levels of “listening” with our souls – we swopped material around. The violin played the piano part, the bandoneon played the bass, and so on. It was as if for months we had been playing in a dimly lit room and someone had suddenly switched the spotlights on. Suddenly we were made intensely aware of what the other instruments CAN DO and what we CAN NOT do. The piano can not vibrate or slide notes the way Jacek Domagala can on his violin. Charles Lazar on Bass can not growl with the same sharp bite that the accordion can. And the Bandoneon can not sustain long clouds of harmonies on which the other instruments can do their dance. We left that rehearsal session with a fresh love for the music and the contribution made by each member of the ensemble: each vibrato, each colour added to this ensemble, either by the particular qualities of the instrument, or the particular qualities of the soul of the person playing it.

CT Tango Ensemble (Photo: Jenny Altschuler)

Useful links

The CT Tango Ensemble also performs La Muerte del Angel on their new CD Tango Club. To read more about them, please follow the links below.

Cape Town Tango Ensemble homepage

Cape Town Tango Ensemble Facebook Page

Rhythm Records downloadable MP3’s of the CT Tango Ensemble

Astor Piazzolla: Cobblestone to Dance Floor

Cape Town Tango Ensemble MP3 and Video Clips