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Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This CD offers nothing new. It includes many of Piazzolla’s best-known works – Milonga del Ángel, Libertango, Verano Porteño and the ubiquitous Oblivion, which must be one of the most arranged pieces of all time. And I have always loved that sense of being almost lulled into the Bach Arioso in Verano Porteño! The real piece of interest here is the suite from the chamber opera María de Buenos Aires, from which five numbers are included. Oddly, the last of them is from a completely different performance from the other four. This is not as incongruous as it might seem, however, as I could discern almost no difference between the sound on this track and those that had gone before it.

The arrangements on this disc are well done for the ensemble of guitar, violin, saxophone, piano and double bass, although I missed the sound of Piazzolla’s own instrument, the bandoneón. None of the performances lacks punch, however. The Versus Ensemble plays extremely well and idiomatically and I found the whole experience rather enjoyable. I enjoyed the vocals of Enrique Moratalla in Chiquilín de Bachín, Balada para un loco and the Milonga Carrieguera from the María de Buenos Aires suite but found soprano María Rey-Joly betraying her opera house roots far too much for this kind of music. It was also slightly odd to hear what sounded to me like Castilian Spanish instead of the South American dialect I thought they might have made an effort to emulate.

María de Buenos Aires was a collaboration between Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer (as was the Balada para un Loco) and it is good to hear his contribution as the Duende (a kind of spiritual elf) – the role Ferrer created for himself - in the final number on this disc,Milonga de la Anunciación.

The recording is excellent throughout, with the right degree of closeness befitting the music and seems to have been produced by the performers themselves. The CD timing is not generous at 52:15 and the booklet is extremely poor; hardly any information on the music, precious little about the performers and no texts whatsoever. I really think Naxos should have done better with this one.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2007

There seems to be no sign of abatement of the pyroclastic Piazzolla lava flow from record companies great and small.  This latest Naxos contribution to quasi-bandoneon studies - there is no bandoneon on the disc - comes from the Versus Ensemble of violin, soprano/alto saxophone, piano, guitar, and double-bass. Piazzolla arrangements are by now commonplace so we shouldn’t be especially surprised by the line-up, effective as it is in its own way.

And the arrangements are certainly not without merit. It allows the violin to soar strongly in Milonga del Ángel and for the saxophone to rove over a pliant bass line. The finale of this has a good kick as well – bracing is the word.  The languid piano that introduces Verano Porteño presages a thinning of texture to the violin, which is in its turn assailed by the resurgent piano – the thing becoming infected with overwrought hyper-drive; plenty of pounding piano and Bach quotations.

Enrique Moratalla’s vocal on Chiquilín de Bachín has just enough nicotine-stained build-up to keep sentimentality at bay, though it’s a close run thing. As ever I am underwhelmed by Piazzolla’s great hit Oblivion, which I stubbornly persist in thinking just about the most tiresome thing I’ve ever heard. Certainly this arrangement does its best to keep lachrymosity at arm’s length. Balada para un Loco begins as a recitation by Moratalla over piano accompaniment, who then sings the remainder of the song. Granted the title is self-explanatory but this is still something of a hysterical arrangement.

By far the biggest piece here is the operatically inclined María de Buenos Aires Suite.  This is a strange old affair. The last piece of the five was recorded separately, at the Tango World Meeting, Valparaiso, Chile, whereas everything else was taped at Caja Rural Auditorium in Granada – though I should add that the aural difference isn’t especially noticeable. Moratalla reprises his role and he’s joined by classical soprano Maria Rey-Joly – the notes err in omitting her from the first song, Milonga Carrieguera, and they’re equally confusing about which numbers Horacio Ferrer recites, implying several – actually so far as I can tell only the last, recorded in Chile, which makes sense. 

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

Having been designated as the Astor Piazzolla expert by one of the international disc magazines, I find each disc release adds a new dimension to the composer, though by now I am sure many listeners are becoming puzzled. Just over a decade ago there was a decisive move to establish the Argentinean composer in the world of 'classical' music, many musicians from that world taking up his cause. It seemed to work, though not always convincingly, but now with a sudden about turn the music is being reclaimed by dance halls and nightclubs as the sophisticated 'pop'music of yesteryear. This is essentially the content of this disc, the Versus Ensemble stressing that everything Piazzolla composed is based on the dance rhythm of the tango, though it is the presence of the vocalist, Enrique Moratalla, who 'sings'and speaks his way through four of the tracks, that sums up the content. The composer's best known pieces, Milonga del Angel, Libertango and Oblivion are included, together with an attractive suite from the operetta, Maria de Buenos Aires. The Versus Ensemble's lineup of violin, saxophone, guitar, double bass and piano, works well enough, though if you go down the road of this popular approach a bandoneon player is absolutely essential. As a novelty we have on the final track the voice of Horacio Ferrer, the poet who worked with Piazzolla on many projects including the operetta Maria de Buenos Aires. At times the ensemble gets excitable and embarks on adventurous tempos, but the group - who are Piazzolla competition winners - know their way around the music and will give much pleasure. Sound quality is adequate, but the brief programme notes - that contain no texts for the songs - are way below the quality we have come to expect from Naxos A limited edition release you may find easy to obtain by your Internet provider.

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