The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Artemis Quartet, Jacques Ammon (piano)
Composer: Piazzolla

The ‘project’ here is simple: to transfer some of Piazzolla’s music into piano quintet, string quartet and piano trio formats, driven by Jacques Ammon and the Artemis’s cellist, Eckart Runge.

The idea isn’t mind-blowingly innovative, but the end product is stylish. The blend of the group is exquisite, with the intricacy and interplay of Piazzolla’s part-writing never compromised, even in more heated moments. The string sound is refined and sumptuous to varying degrees, mixing the sensibilities of European classical style with Buenos Aires cut and thrust, just as Piazzolla did. Their usually understated approach creates undercurrents of tension rather than full-blown drama, and graceful rather than maudlin wistfulness. Subtle shifts in tempo and rubato grasp the narrative ebb and flow of tango, all knitted together by Ammon or Runge’s pulsating bass lines. And, when required, there is a little extra Latin-American flair in the bag, as heard in the swaggering final movement of Estaciones porteñas and the Baroque vigour and tight, syncopated jabbings of Fuga y misterio.

There is no new, clever makeover of Piazzolla’s work here; that this album convinces without the need for one is as much a tribute to the fine performance as to the credentials of the original music.

Chris Elcombe