BIRMINGHAM POST (February 2007)
Le Grand Tango: EI Ultimo Tango with Lloica Czackis (EUT 612)
After the immense success of their CD released on SOMM Recordings, the CBSO-derived group El Ultimo Tango here follow it up with another equally scintillating collection of passionate works from the great Argentinian tango-composer Astor Piazzolla and others. The title track crackles with awesome resonances. Piazzolla wrote it for Mstislav Rostropovich, but in the event the renowned Russian cellist was unable to give the piece its premiere, its initial performance entrusted instead to the son of a colleague of Piazzolla’s. That son was Eduardo Vassallo, now co-principal cellist with the CBSO, who gives a zippy, captivating account of this wonderful music.
Instrumental backing has been filled out for flute, saxophones and bass by Mark Goodchild, a CBSO bassist who wears at least two other hats: bass guitarist and, here, arranger of impressive expertise. And in the piano part, originally written for none other than Marta Argerich, Freddie Lezama Thomas plays with a strutting, brooding tension which is entirely appropriate to this genre of music born in the back alleys of Buenos Aires.
Yet not all the music on this irresistible disc originates from the other side of the world. The witty and charming Casanova is composed by Moseley resident Nick Wiltshire, its score literally passed over the garden wall to his neighbour Sakari Oramo, who passed it on to Vassallo. Goodchild’s arrangement, flutey and saxey, is deft and engaging. On several tracks the instrumentalists are joined by the smoky, evocative tones ofLloica Czackis, a vocalist with a world of emotion in her larynx. Very highly recommended.
MUSICWEB (Summer 2005)
Tangos have of course featured strongly in many films from the days of Rudolf Valentino and George Raft to melodramas like Assassination Tango.. And, of course, pre-eminent amongst tango composers is Astor Piazzolla.
But Piazzolla and tango – without the bandoneon?
Without that most quintessential of tango instruments how could that be? No problem apparently. Knowing that bandoneon players are very hard to find in England, El Ultimo Tango’s bassist, Mark Goodchild, who has impressive arranging skills, came up with the idea of combining flute and saxophone to recreate the bandoneon timbre with the added advantage of creating new colours too. El Ultimo Tango are a small group of mainly City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra players formed to specialise in Argentinian music and the music of Astor Piazzolla in particular. Cellist, Eduardo Vassallo has personal memories of Astor Piazzolla and his father played with the composer in Buenos Aires.
El Ultimo Tango clearly greatly empathise with Piazzolla’s vibrant, fiery tango music. They play with passion and joie de vivre. There is a feeling of freshness and spontaneity about it all – the frequent glissandos are witty or bitingly sardonic. The opening Libertango’s feeling of wild sensual abandon is palpable, the music sparkles, lifts the spirits. Then in Decarissimo, the piano sets an initial mood of languor, dreaming sultrily before the flute pushes the music into faster, perky rhythms, the ensemble embellishing the material and the saxophone playing blues. Preludio is a dirge, the music raw and anguished, darkly funereal. Bragatissimo’s solo cello opening with treading bass ostinato sustains a melancholy mood for much of its length before the tempo quickens and the music coarsens and grows increasingly angry and defiant. Buenos Aires Hora Cera is sardonic and brutal, suggestive perhaps of sexual cruelty or of drug-driven exhaustion, the glissandi sound particularly menacing. Lunfardo is more vivacious and uninhibited with some extraordinarily wild punctuations until the cello introduces a waltz rhythm to establish order and sensitivity.
Best known perhaps, is Adios Nonino The piano meanders beguilingly, its arpeggios and ripples very impressionistic, very Debussy-like, the mood eldritch and sylvan before the famous melody enters quietly, growing in fervour. The theme is then taken up by the cello, then the flute and saxophone before variations turn classical forms to jazz and tango rhythms.
But for me the highlight of this disc is unquestionably Oblivion scored for cello and piano only. Its beauty haunts. Once again the opening piano solo is quite impressionistic with a hint of Rachmaninov, a hint that is broadened by the cello’s song. The tango rhythm is there but muted and sweetened. This lovely track is worth the price of the CD alone.
The concert ends with Piazzolla’s four-movement tango suite Four Seasons: Spring, bouncy and energetic and full of zip and colour but with melancholy cello and wistful flute episodes seemingly indicating Spring it is over all too soon while ‘Summer’ suggests languid, drooping days and there is a touch of the blues. ‘Autumn’ sounds a note of loss and regret but the season of mellow fruitfulness also has wilder mitier jazz moments. Finally ‘Winter’ is initially hesitant and cool, then briefly passionate before jagged tango rhythms are smoothed to dreamy romanticism as the movement ends, surprisingly, in classical baroque purity.
The booklet notes are informative about the players and the origins and character of the tango but there is very little or no detail about the music.
EI Ultimo Tango presents Piazzolla sans bandoneon but with added colour. Tango music played with fervour and sensitivity. And for sheer bliss taste Oblivion – would that it be like this.
GRAMOPHONE (April 2004)
EL ULTIMO TANGO PLAYS PIAZZOLLA
Adios Nonino. Bragatissimo. Buenos Aires Hora Cero. Decarissimo. Four Seasons: Primavera Porteña; Verano Porteño; Otono Porteño; Invierno Porteño. Libertango. Lunfardo. Oblivion (arr Bragato)
EI Ultimo Tango (Nicholas Bricht, flute. Mark O’Brien, sax. Eduardo Vassallo, cello. Fred Lezema Thomas, piano. Mark Goodchild, bass and arrangements)
Somm @ SOMMCD033 (66 minutes: DDD)
El Ultimo Tango are a quintet of players connected to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Their euphonious blend is rather sweeter than most other Piazzollan ensembles, largely through the inclusion of flute and cello and omission of any accordion type-instrument. Bassist Mark Goodchild’s arrangements are extremely effective and, like Bragato’s of Oblivion, the opposite of anodyne.
The programme is most adroitly laid out; given the presence throughout of typical Piazzollan rhythmic and melodic finger-prints, the whole has a certain balletic quality. The high spot is Adios Nonino, here given an unusual treatment with the opening half entrusted mostly to the piano, with the rest of the ensemble taking up the final half, quite the best arrangement of it that I have heard.
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW (March 2004)
EI Ultimo Tango
Piazzolla Libertango. Decarissimo. Preludio. Bragatissimo. Buenos Aires Hora Cero. Lunfardo. Adios Nonino. Four Seasons (all arr. Goodchild). Oblivion (arr. Bragato).
EI Ultimo Tango Nicolas Bricht, flute; Mark O’Brien, saxophones; Eduardo Vassallo, cello; Mark Goodchild, double bass; Fred Lezama Thomas, piano).
Somm SOMMCD033 (full price, 1 hour 6 minutes). Website https://www.somm-recordings.com/. Producer Malcolm Creese. Engineer Bob Whitney. Dates January 21st and 22nd, 2003.
EI Ultimo Tango are a quintet of flute, saxophone, cello, piano and double bass, formed mainly by members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to specialize in Argentinian music, especially the works of Astor Piazzolla. This intriguing collection gathers together a programme of characteristic Piazzolla pieces arranged for the ensemble, all but one of the arrangements being by the CBSO double bassist Mark Goodchild. The moving spirit in the enterprise seems to be the CBSO’s Argentinian-born co-principal cellist, Eduardo Vassallo, whose father played in Piazzolla’s octet. Vassallo was apparently the first cellist to perform, with Piazzolla’s approval, Le Grand Tango – the big cello/piano piece Piazzolla wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich – some time before the dedicatee had got around to learning it. Several of the works here feature the cello as quasi-soloist, most notably Bragatissimo, which begins with nearly three minutes of solo cello rhapsody with only a bit of pizzicato bass accompaniment. This piece was dedicated to Jose Bragato, the cellist of Piazzolla’s own band, and it is Bragato’s own arrangement of Oblivion (a piece recently released in orchestral garb on Chandos, reviewed in January 2004.
Altogether the programme spans a wide expressive range, from smoky urban cool and wit (Buenos Aires Hora Cero), through the varied moods of the Four Seasons Suite to the profound elegy of Adios Nonino, Piazzolla’s lament for his father and, at over ten minutes, the longest work on the disc. In this intimate chamber-ensemble scoring I was struck more forcibly than ever before by the links of harmony and expression between Piazzolla and Kurt Weill. The playing of the quintet is assured and affectionate, and the music itself is indestructible enough to survive any changes of tone-colour. That said, Goodchild’s combination of flute with saxophone to re-create the timbre of Piazzolla’s own instrument, the bandoneon, seems to me only partially successful. The result lacks some of the cutting edge one associates with Piazzolla’s own recordings, or indeed with the alternative recourse of replacing the bandoneon with an accordion. Still in this kind of musical area there is no point in being purist about such things: EI Ultimo Tango took a deliberate decision not to rely on English accordionists, and Nicolas Bricht and Mark O’Brien play most expressively. Somm’s recording is warm and atmospheric. Piazzolla collectors should not be without this disc.
BIRMINGHAM POST (July 2002)
Tango in the spirit of Bach
El Ultimo Tango CBSO Centre
Born in the backstreet bordellos of Buenos Aires; tango is a musical form still imbued with innocence, dignity and total purity of identity. It is built upon stereotypical eight-in-a-bar rhythms, its structures and textures are closely woven, and its harmonies, pointed melodies juggling above them, melt the heart. In many respects it could almost be Bach.
And indeed the spirit of Bach was often in the air at Friday’s inaugural appearance of EI Ultimo Tango, latest spin-off group from the CBSO (what an attractive load of chicks the mother hen has produced over the years), and one which drew a sellout and enthusiastic audience.
Master minding the enterprise was cellist Eduardo Vassallo, his facial expressions painting a response to the myriad emotions evoked by this music, complemented by his enormously resourceful playing.
His vitality was matched by equally vivid collaborations from colleagues Nico Bricht (deft and fantasising flute), Mark O’Brien (moody and melancholy saxophone), Mark
Goodchild, creator of these wonderful arrangements where we missed the characteristic sound of the bandoneon not a jot, stealthily muttering on double-bass, and, most ear-opening of all, teenaged pianist Freddy Lezama Thomas, his ever-present continuo providing an inexhaustible range of touch and colour, as well as regretful pathos where appropriate.
All the music was by tango king Astor Piazzolla, who died 10 years ago. Sorrowing, quirky, heart-tugging, humorous, and often rising to greatness (CBSO music director Sakari Oramo agreed with me that Preludio was like the opening of Bach’s St Matthew Passion), it never failed to enthral. The promised CD must come very, very soon.