Shibe/Giunta/Walker; ASMF/Bell review – Piazzolla up close and personal

The centenary of Astor Piazzolla’s birth falls this year, an anniversary marked by a pair of Proms, notably different in their approach. At Monday’s Cadogan Hall concert, guitarist Sean Shibe, mezzo Wallis Giunta and flautist Adam Walker placed Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, for flute and guitar, alongside a scene from his “operita” María de Buenos Aires and songs by fellow Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez, also born in 1921.

Written in 1986, and juxtaposing sensuality with something of the contrapuntal purity of Bach, Histoire du Tango charts the dance’s evolution from its fin-de-siècle origins in the brothels of Buenos Aires via cafes and nightclubs to the bravura “Concert d’aujourd’hui” with which it ends. Walker and Shibe did fine things with it, offsetting beauty with ferocity and combining virtuosity with exquisite tenderness and grace.

Giunta, meanwhile, whose dark, lived-in voice seems effortlessly capable of crossing genres and styles, sounded provocative as the glorious antiheroine of Piazzolla’s “operita” and was mesmerising in the Ramírez group, arranged by Shibe for all three performers. Rooted more in Argentinian folk music than tango, they portray women as anti-colonialist freedom fighters, poets and military leaders, and reveal a fiercely original imagination at work – musical as well as political – with their drones and throbs, incantatory vocal lines and poised flute countermelodies. They were very much the high point of an outstanding recital.

Two days later in the Albert Hall, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Joshua Bell gave us Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons interwoven with Piazzolla’s allusive tribute The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, originally written for bandoneon and ensemble, given here in Leonid Desyatnikov’s arrangement for violin and strings. The Vivaldi was elegant and cool, perhaps fractionally too much so, and the Piazzolla-Desyatnikov altogether more exuberant, deftly capturing the contrast between the latter’s streetwise urbanity and Vivaldi’s evocation of the natural world. The orchestral sound was smooth and warm. Bell played with his customary sweetness of tone throughout, and considerable flamboyance in the Piazzolla.

  • All Proms are available to listen again on BBC Sounds until 11 October.