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No Dancing, Please: We’re in Church

St. George Anglican Church
05/27/2011 -  
Montréal Chamber Music Festival: “Jazz and Jeans” “Tango du terroir”
Astor Piazzolla: Escualo – Milonga del Angel – Muerte del Angel – Chant & Fugue
Denis Plante: Tango y romance – Valse pour Laura – Fleurs en valse pour Laura – Carnaval – L’Etoile du nord – Jardin d’hiver – Rondes – Pampa Blues – Astorias
André Gagnon: Suite de Tangos
Francis Malka: Tango pour quatre

Tango Boréal: Denis Plante (Bandoneón), David Jacques (Guitar, Charango), Ian Simpson (Double bass); The Festival Quartet: Bénédicte Lauzière, Andrew Beer (Violins), Lambert Chen (Viola), Amaryllis Jarcczyk (Cello); Luis Lopez (Dancer/Percussionist)

D. Plante (© Montréal Chamber Music Festival)

Elitist as the name “chamber music” may be, founder Denis Brott insists that the Montréal Chamber Music Festival is “inclusive, not exclusive.” Thus, the penultimate performance was titled “Jazz and Jeans”. And while there were probably more Jeans and Jeannes than jeans in the St. George Church, and while tango is not even peripherally “jazz”, the description was not ill-chosen.

The entire evening was led by a rather astonishing Montréal trio called Tango Boréal. Astonishing for several reasons. First, founder Denis Plante plays a Bandoneón, the Argentine-style concertina popularized by Astor Piazzolla himself. As an accordion player myself, I have always loathed the sound of the instrument, and the Bandoneón has the same reedy sound.

But Mr. Plante plays the keyless instrument with such panache, good-natured fun, broadening out the bellows like a magician tossing and catching a deck of cards, that one could forget the sound for awhile.

The two others were equally as adept. Ian Simpson played a mean double-bass, both “pizzed” and bowed. Then we had David Jacques playing a charango, which initially resembled a ukulele. No, this is a miniature guitar, also from Argentina, which he plays with the same deftness that he gives the guitar.

Other participants are equally as interesting as these experienced three. But tango is one South American dance which can’t be summed up by one group or one musician.

We all have our images of the dance. Of course Al Pacino’s “blind tango” in The Scent of a Woman was an ultimate moment in grace. But equally I remember that line by Mike Leigh in his Happy-Go-lucky, where a tango teacher tells her students, “The tango is not a dance of love or even passion. It’s a dance of revenge!.”

David Plante took the “J.S. Bach Tango” tradition. Just as nobody would think of getting up in the aisles and dancing to a Bach Cello Suite gigue or bourrée or minuet, nobody in St. George Church would dare swing and sway with the tangos of Messrs Piazzolla and Plante.

These were tender tangos, tangos with fugues and chorales. They were sweet (not saccharine) tangos, a little sensual, a soupçon sexy, but nothing to fear.

(Admittedly, I was hoping that as the accordion, guitar and bass played these temptations, an Archdeacon of St. George Anglican Church would stamp down the aisle and shout to the audience, “Stop these salacious sounds in the name of the Lord!!”

(Canadian clergy, though, are too civil for such outbursts.)

Those who wanted their tangos more unsettling, more enticing, may not have been satisfied. Like the Modern Jazz Quartet, these tangos were polished and civilized.

At one point, the Cirque du Soleil’s Luis Lopez entered, as a three-part threat. Long-haired bare-chested, he was part acrobat, part tang-dancer. Both were estimable. Yet his marvelous gyrations, his solo improvisatory tanglements, as well as his drum-rhythms, were elegant enough.

The Festival Quartet, presumably assembled for these events, played with such a luscious, truly sensuous sound that they were more exciting than the dedicated tango group.

First Violinist Bénédicte Lauzière never ever schmaltzed up her tone for these tangos. That would have detracted from the come-hither mood. But she added just enough vibrato to make her violin a femme fatale to the more subtle bumptious rhythms of the Tango Boréal and her three other string players.

The official program gave no specific listings of the tangos (I took this list off an earlier press release) yet that made little difference. Like every tango from Stravinsky to Shostakovich to Piazzolla and, yes Denis Plante, they were played with the same syncopation, the same slow aphrodisiacal meter.

Then again, Astor Piazzolla himself was disliked by his Argentinian colleagues for being too symphonic, too erudite for their tango sensibilities, and even Mr. Pacino eschewed his music for more a danceable composer. So the Tango Boréal was simply following another tradition.

Still, though their music and their styles were grand, I doubt if any of the families in the audience was tempted to switch partners after the performance.

Harry Rolnick



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