Music, and art in general, should challenge us: our notions, our perception of quality, and over time, hopefully our tastes. This album is challenging for me. Part of me dislikes the philosophical basis behind the combination of Biber with Piazzolla on “baroque” instruments, alongside the freedom by which these performers embellish the music to satisfy their personal taste.
Another part of me auditioned several tracks before purchase and found the combination interesting, if not tantalizing. And that’s the challenge—how do we make sense of two composer’s music and different styles of interpretation, separated by time and by sound worlds?
Schröder and her continuo team, Lautten Compagney, seems to skirt these challenges by trying to link the music through a shroud of mystery. However clever that may be, I find it a weak connection, if any connection at all. For me, both composers wrote good music and these performers like the music from these two worlds. Whether they belong together or not is an interesting thing for us all to ponder.
I have to admit, I wrote an early version of this review and sat on it. Then I watched a documentary on Netflix about pizza. The show was excellent, starring David Chang, the Korean-American Chef from New York. And among his cooking friends, they kept pushing the question of authenticity and its relevance toward understanding and appreciating food we call pizza, from Naples, to New York, to New Haven, to Los Angeles, to Tokyo. What is pizza? Is this pizza? Great show.
And we could have a similar conversation here. But something of betrayal lingers with me when it comes to this album. The performers are taking baroque instruments and using them to perform modern music. What was the HIP all about? It disgusts me. The portamentos and wide vibrato on violin is together both in taste (for tangos) and out of place, on an early violin.
Biber and Piazzolla, who hailed from such different periods, are united by their spirituality, by their longing for freedom and by their desire to express themselves through music.
We can’t exactly ask them. I think it’s a stretch. So is this, emphasis mine:
The fact that Christ died for us on the Cross is a miracle, and the fact that people then founded a religion constitutes a great mystery. Also Christ’s Resurrection, if you believe in this. (And even if this is only a symbol for something else, I believe very firmly that part of us lives on after death.) I find this sense of a great mystery in Biber’s sonatas. You can also sense it in Piazzolla, and even if it’s not immediately religious, it’s still intended in a very transcendental way and it also operates with this infinite soul, a soul that has to be liberated.
The Latin flair we might expect in Piazzolla, though, actually makes its way over to Biber, at least so in the Sonata representing the rosary of the crucifixion. Moving into sul ponticello territory, ornamental trills, and strong rhythmic accents are musically interesting. But what they had to do with the mystery of Christ’s death escape me.
The fact that the “Assumption of Mary” goes nearly hillbilly on us is another cause for concern. (No worries, they manage to infuse it too with tango style.)
As much as I adore La Muerte del Angel, there’s something missing from the seniority when the fugue gets picked up by the harpsichord. And it just goes to convince me that as creative and versatile as these musicians are, some artistic line has been crossed in this recital.
I’d not raise an eyebrow if, after a baroque concert, they stuck in a tango as an encore. We’d think that was clever and maybe admire their versatility. But together I don’t see the different pieces having connections to the others. I don’t remember Piazzolla telling us he was inspired by Biber. To say it again, I think these folks like the music and they wanted to see what would happen with it together.
It would be easy to dismiss this album as a failed experiment, but the quality of playing is very high. Historic authenticity aside, they make good music together. One chef said authenticity is out the window with pizza. It made no sense, he said, to import cheese from Italy when the essence was to use fresh, local cheese. And maybe that’s the rub. These tango-loving musicians bring their study of early music but infuse the playing with their own brand of spontaneity and improvisation, if not written arrangements.
It’s good that albums like these may challenge us. In the end, as easy as it would be for me to find fault with their outcomes, I have to remind myself that new artistic creations, like tuna pizza made in Tokyo, won’t replace the Neapolitan originals enjoyed in Naples. After much reflection and even more listening, I think Schröder and company are onto something. The truth may be in the taste of the food, whatever we decide to call it. And these friends make great music.