Thursday, 13 September 2012


Richard Galliano, Accordion
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (11 September 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 September 2012 with the title "Playing Piazzolla with Pizzazz".

The tangos of Argentine bandoneon player and composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992, below) have travelled so far and wide that the music is now available in every conceivable instrumental arrangement thought possible. Every classical artist or ensemble is thought cool and progressive if Piazzolla featured in their repertoire. His revolutionary Tango Nuevo (literally New Tango) was however conceived for quintet or octet, led by the bandoneon (Argentine folk accordion).

French accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano’s Piazzolla Forever Septet, assembled for the 20th anniversary of Piazzolla’s death, comes closest to the original conception. Galliano was himself mentored by Piazzolla and offered an instinctual view of this infectiously rhythmic and often raunchy music.

The 90-minute concert, played without break, began with the little Chiquilin de Bachin, played on a harmonica-like instrument, its tiny sonorous pipes powered by lungs rather than pulled bellows. This short prelude ushered in the group’s seven members, and Galliano brought out the accordion for his Tango for Claude, which established the general tenor of adrenaline-pumped exuberance of the evening.

The main work was the popular Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, beginning with Spring and Summer, the unmistakeable ostinatos and whooping portamentos (slides) making these favourites instantly recognisable. From deep within, a fount of melody - usually melancholic by contrast - comes to the fore. One soon realises that tango is not just a dance or art form, but an unspoken language, even a way of life. Galliano’s passionate and deeply involved artistry was proof of that.

He then swapped the heavy accordion for the more diminutive bandoneon (above), which resembles a concertina, resting it on his upheld thigh as he played. With its more intimate and sustained tones, soulful numbers like Milonga del Angel, Oblivion, Michelangelo 70 and Soledad found their true voice. Violinists Sebastian Surel and Bertrand Cervera, and cellist Eric Levionnois all found themselves in the spotlight for a spot of improvisation.

The Seasons were completed with Autumn and Winter, the latter being the only slow movement of the four, and with good reason. As folks go indoors and nature hibernates, the music darkens but not without a fanciful cadenza from pianist Dimitri Naïditch.

Galliano’s own music, including Heavy Tango and New York Tango, were essentially tributes to the master. The latter was particularly frenetic, with a startling sequence where the strings in sequence simulated the inimitable inner city wail of sirens.    

There were three generous encores, including Matos Rodriguez’s La Cumparsita and Piazzolla’s highly energised Libertango, the latter seeing Galliano as a veritable one-man-band. There could not have been anything else but a standing ovation after that. 

There was no programme booklet provided for this concert, so I'm very grateful to Esplanade for providing me with this concert listing of works performed.

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