June 2003

Tango Goes Symphony
Razumovsky Orchestra; Peter Breiner, conductor
Naxos 8557004
Released: 2003

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance **
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

"Strip to your underwear if you’re not in black tie. Get obscene if you want, but never casual. You feel and urge? Touch its pain, wrap yourself around it…this is the tango."

These are the words written on the LP jacket of an Astor Piazzolla record that I own. If music is emotion, then the tango is passion. If music is an act, then the tango is making love, and not gently. That is, if the tango is played as it was meant to be played.

In one of the latest Naxos releases, from their Light Classics collection, comes a collection of tangos from masters of the genre. Astor Piazzolla, Julian Plaza, Jacob Gade, and Cole Porter are among the dozen or so composers featured here.

From the first track, I knew that this CD was going to be an "almost." For the tango to be taken seriously, it needs to have some bite. When Piazzolla played, he played with passion. He played as if in a sexual struggle with the music. When he played there was no mistake about the erotic roots of this music. Such is not the case with Tango Goes Symphony. Gone is the raw energy, replaced with a smooth melodic likeness, never capturing the soul of the tango. The piano isn’t pounded, the horns don’t cry out, the flute doesn’t even begin to seduce. It’s all too easy listening for the tango.

The disc does have a few momentary highlights when I thought, "if only they had taken this path instead." On track 2, "La Cumparsita," there are periods where the piano and flute seem to do battle with each another. The accordion jumps into the action and I begin to hope. Unfortunately, the rest of the orchestra chimes in and we’re back to the Light Classics. A Piazzolla composition, track 11 begins with an interesting string arrangement and feels as if new territory were being explored. Then along comes the "happy go lucky" flute and all passion is robbed once more.

The orchestra seems small on this disc, more like a big band than a symphony orchestra. The playing is competent, yet uninspired. The flute takes over almost every piece and begins to sound too much like Zamfir after awhile. The recording is up to the usual Naxos standards, but not enough to save the disc. Perhaps if Conductor Breiner had taken the entire orchestra out for an evening of carousing, drinking, and dancing the night before, he would have really had something.