Classical Music: Seduced by the tango

Massive emotional forces are contained, and resolved, with the inevitability of ritual

The Kronos Quartet weave dreams with it; Daniel Barenboim lets off steam with it; Yo-Yo Ma belts it out on the cello; violinist Gidon Kremer plays very little else. Forget the potency of cheap music: consider instead the tango. This extends far beyond the vertical sex it was originally designed to accompany: the tango now rivals jazz as the top recreational drug for classical virtuosi. Why should this seemingly fossilised form have so fired the classicists' imagination?

You could adduce its Spanish connections, its Cuban antecedents, its possible African roots: this is a music blissfully un-neutered by postmodern self-consciousness. You could talk about love and death, the knife under the cloak, the high drama of porteno low life. There is an element of truth in all these cliches, but the real secret is blindingly simple: Astor Piazzolla. Gidon Kremer's recording of this Argentinian composer's "operita" Maria de Buenos Aires (released this week by Teldec) is the latest in a burst of hommages from the classical camp.

Piazzolla lived and died a bandoneonist, and was never happier than when playing in downtown Buenos Aires. But he was also classically-trained: his aim was to raise the tango to a concert art, without blunting its exhilarating edge. Since Bach was the first great dealer in strict-rhythm dance forms, it was fitting that he should be one of Piazzolla's heroes; Bach's harmonic progressions pervade his works. Like Bach, he saw no great distinction between improvisation, composition and performance. In Piazzolla's tangos, massive emotional forces are contained, and resolved, with the inevitability of ritual.

Maria de Buenos Aires is uncharacteristically sprawling: a low-life saga tailor-made for translation to the cinema (Bunuel would have known exactly what to do with it). "I don't think it's going to be standard repertoire," says Kremer cautiously. He can say that again. The libretto, by one of Piazzolla's besotted admirers, is a wild farrago of whores, angels, pimps, and psychiatrists. The work's true subject is the tango itself, which ranges from lazy deliberation to furious excitement, and every so often breaks into a remarkably Bach-like fugue. Kremer, who spins violin arabesques above the melee below, says he was impelled to make this recording by the "injustice" done to the work by its original recording 30 years ago. The result is mesmerising: I cannot imagine a better advocate.

From another neck of the classical woods comes Los Tangueros (Sony), on which ace-Schubertian Emanuel Ax teams up with tango specialist Pablo Ziegler for a luxurious two-piano romp. Ax confesses that he only got the point of tango when he saw Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, and that he had to be taught how to play it by Ziegler. "It was galling to watch his ease with things I had great trouble with. People like me tend to work in phrase-lengths, and to pursue a singing line at the expense of rhythmic intensity. This was a valuable lesson."

Meanwhile, the British pianist Kathryn Stott has been infected with the Piazzolla virus by her chamber colleague Yo-Yo Ma (on Soul of the Tango from Sony). "I didn't get it when I first looked at the music," she says. "It was only when we started playing, and the incredible build-up of tension hit me in the stomach, that I understood why Yo-Yo was so mad about it." She has now founded a tango trio, and is off to Japan next week with her own Piazzolla arrangements.

u

THIS WEEK, after the most ignominiously protracted selection process in living memory, the BBC finally announced the new controller of Radio 3. Will Wyatt's enraged denials that Roger Lewis was offered the job are now denied by an equally enraged R Lewis. By accepting the top job at Classic FM, Lewis has found his perfect niche. So who is this other Roger who inherits Nicholas Kenyon's crown of thorns?

"A safe pair of hands," say Roger Wright's former colleagues at Deutsche Grammophon. "Conscientious, caring, and canny," say fellow-labourers at Broadcasting House, where as head of classical music he has just struck an impressively sensible new deal with the orchestral unions.

When I ask him what he thinks Radio 3 stands for, I get a bold and unhesitating reply. "It's about maintaining quality, and preserving the public service role. It's about being a cultural patron, about broadcasting live and specially-recorded music. It's about maintaining the voice of authority, and making the audience feel they are part of the world of ideas.'

Will he therefore reprieve the excellent Music Matters, which Kenyon was planning to axe? "That's the sort of issue I want to look at." Which presenters will Wright axe? "I can't talk about that yet. It's only fair to talk privately with everybody first, but I will obviously want to change things." How important to him are ratings? "What's more important to me is the editorial distinctiveness of the network. We have a loyal and passionately committed audience, and I would like them to listen longer than they do at present." There is no gung-ho bombast here.

Wright will have to fit into a complicated heirarchy, and he will have as his commissioning editor the music world's top bogeywoman, who was originally regarded as a shoo-in for the job he has landed. So who will call the shots? He or Hilary Boulding? "It's still early days. I'll let you know about that." He laughs, but he sounds confident. And this is a man who, while at DG, signed up Oliver Knussen and recordingBoulez and Berio. Authority, passion, ideas? I think - praise be - I hear the sound of a clock being turned back.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor