Monday 1 June 2015

Tango Siempre, Royal Northern College of Music

Saturday, May 30

It was gratifying to see a packed house for the excellent Tango Siempre, even if the dancers were the chief draw. The dancers, in fact, even the good ones (there were two pairs, one from England and one from Argentina) tended to be a distraction, although they cast shadows that rose and fell, in that enjoyably noir way. Choreography tended to underline the structuredness, and hence the group’s own conservatoire origins. 

In fact Tango Siempre comprise a chamber orchestra of piano, violin, (mostly) bowed bass and bandoneon, and recreate a vanished world of Buenos Aires saloons with virtuosity and expertise. There's poignancy as well as passion, but that's what comes from recreating vanished worlds. The mood swings are mercurial. Elegant one moment, charged and turbulent the next: the wood of the bass is slapped as percussion; Ros Stephens abandons well-turned arpeggios and scratches at the fiddle fretboard; the group push time to and fro at will, in complete togetherness of course. Within the limits of the tango genre, the music has a lot of freedom. 

It would be simplistic to characterise the divide as between tango and nuevo tango. We learned something about the history of different orchestras and different styles of tango. But pieces like ‘El gato negro’, pianist Jonathan Taylor’s homage to the legendary Horacio Salganin, were exuberant and unfettered, whilst Astor Piazzolla’s ‘The Dance of the Angel’ was as elevated and graceful as anything from the Old World. The sprawling beauty of Piazzolla’s ‘Vuelvo al Sur’ demonstrated the fate of all good iconoclasts: consolidation is the phase after expansion.  

The repertoire includes familiar tango fare like ‘Milango de mis amores’, and, most famous of all, ‘La campasita’ (offered as a lollipop for the encore). But the chief interest of Tango Siempre’s resides in Taylor’s original compositions, sometimes securely in the tradition and sometimes as questing and adventurous as Piazzolla's own. Julian Rowlands is an fabulous bandoneon player, roughly bouncing his instrument on his knee and getting it to squeak like a baby. He would be in trouble if it were. Ros Stephens' violin has real clarity and vigour. 

The tango transmutes sadness to beauty, and Tango Siempre understand it thoroughly. They might even be too good for dancers, if that isn't a contradiction. 

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