Lucid Culture


CD Review: Katya Grineva – Love and Fire: The Dances

The latest album by self-described Romantic pianist and Carnegie Hall favorite (she’s playing there on June 12 at 8 ) Katya Grineva is a treat for fans of canonical 19th century favorites, proudly idiosyncratic and unabashedly individualistic. Grineva was seemingly born to play the Romantics, wringing plenty of angst and longing out of a mix of familiar standards, Piazzolla classics and a perhaps predictably but aptly emotional take of the Ravel Bolero. On both the Chopin Mazurka in A Minor and the Waltz in E Minor, she mines the dynamics for heart-tugging shifts that stop just this side of overwrought – yet, by contrast, she lets the Albeniz Tango breathe for itself, a smart move. Granados’ Planera Spanish Dance is likewise allowed to shimmer and gleam, at a tastefully stately pace.

Most impressively, it’s the Piazzolla that best draws out Grineva’s intensity. Adios Nonino, a requiem written right after the death of the composer’s father, is stoic yet wrenching. An abbreviated arrangement of the sprawling crazy-love anthem Balada Para Un Loco is considerably more blazing and percussive than the original, and Grineva careens through its louder passages like a woman possessed, after which Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dances makes a perfect segue. The Bolero alternates between slinkiness and impatience, a nice contrast to see in a piece where some performers find none at all.  

Grineva’s Carnegie Hall show this week is billed as a family-friendly event, lots of familiar standards by Debussy, Satie and Chopin and others delivered with characteristic verve: bring a 15-year-old friend, family member or someone who looks hopelessly underage, and they get in free with your paid admission.


June 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Maria Cangiano Sings Piazzolla at Drom, NYC 12/17/08

“We know nothing about classic tango here,” deadpanned Brooklyn-based chanteuse Maria Cangiano, and the crowd was instantly in on the joke. With her big, powerful contralto and a vibrato that she commanded with effortless ease, Cangiano was seemingly born to sing the Piazzolla songbook that she explores on her new cd. Wednesday night at Drom, she delivered a mix of iconic and obscure Piazzolla with dramatic intensity and a feel for the material that bordered on telepathic. But as much heavy lifting as there was going on, Cangiano saved her most dramatic flourishes, including a surprisingly impressive upper register, for those few moments where she had to take a crescendo and then deliver another one on top of that.


Cangiano’s inspired backing band changed shape as the show went on, with keyboards, bandoneon, violin, guitar, and upright bass in addition to two percussionists alternating between some of the songs. It didn’t take her long, just one song, before she left the world of tango for an obscure, straight-up pop ballad, airy, slow and somewhat skeletal as it built to a matter-of-factly eerie four-note coda. The following song dated from early in the great Argentinian composer’s career, morosely contemplating the thought of suicide at 6 AM after the party’s run its course.


The high point of the night was the haunting, anguished lament Ciudades (Cities), Cangiano insistent and imploring throughout its bitter refrain, love evaporating amid the inexorable passage of time and the immutability of the buildings towering overhead. She finally shook off the slinkiness of the earlier part of the set and took flight on a track from the 1965 collaboration album between Piazzolla and Jorge Luis Borges, the guitarist coloring the song with some warmly sparse acoustic slide work. Her version of El Sur (Going South) was perfectly paced, gently building from wistful and homesick to towering magnificence. They closed with a rare candombe given considerable fire and bounce by the two percussionists, the guitarist switching to electric and fueling the song with some swooping jazz lines.

Oddly, the only miss of the night was an instrumental, Libertango, the Piazzolla classic everybody knows, which sputtered along with exaggerated staccato. The song’s about freedom through dance, but this particular dance never found a place to stand and start to sway. Maria Cangiano’s next New York show is at half past noon at the Blue Note on Jan 25, two sets for the relatively low price of $25.


December 19, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Best Piazzolla in New York?

Always a hotly debatable question. On Monday afternoon, there couldn’t have been anything better. Should anyone claim that Argentinan bandoneon player and bandleader Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) wasn’t one of the greatest composers of alltime, the trio of Thomas Piercy (clarinet), Masataka Odaka (upright bass) and Claudine Hickman (piano) reaffirmed that brilliantly throughout their afternoon performance at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Throughout his career, Piazzolla was torn between two worlds, classical and traditional Argentinian tango. While living in New York as a boy he took piano lessons and discovered the joys and pleasures of Bach; later, in the 1940s, having returned to Argentina and established himself as a player and songwriter, he ventured deeply into jazz, incorporating that as well into his own unique vision. Perhaps because he had one foot in what was then considered pop culture, and the other in the all-so-serious world of classical music, Piazzolla’s music is stormy, often downright anguished. Most of his greatest works are in dark minor keys replete with tense, riveting crescendos and all sorts of drama, the ominous, flamenco-inspired beat always driving it on. The trio of Piercy, Odaka and Hickman brought out all of this but also the sunnier, jazzier side of the great composer in what was essentially an impressively inclusive overview of Piazzolla’s career.

Because Piazzolla was such a genre-bender, his music has been arranged for all different types of configurations, from rock bands (notably Big Lazy) to full orchestra to fusion jazz. Piercy’s often mournful clarinet, flying over Hickman’s tasteful, understated piano and Odaka’s insistent, pulsing bass brought out every bit of melody in the program. Because Piazzolla liked a big, lush sound, playing his bandoneon – a German accordion – with a full orchestra roaring behind him, tunes were occasionally subsumed beneath lavish arrangements. The opposite was the case here. The trio ran through the angst-driven, somewhat death-obsessed Oblivion, the misnamed Tango del Diablo (which begins with a big eerie cadenza before quieting down and building very subtly), Le Grand Tango (a beautiful, overtly classical mini-suite from late in Piazzolla’s career) and one of Piazzolla’s most popular and catchy compositions, Solitude, with confidence and sensitivity to even minute emotional shifts. They closed the almost hourlong program with his 1960s composition, the darkly and somewhat modernistic Tango Six, the somewhat wistful, classically-inflected Angel’s Tango and finally the surprisingly optimistic, jazzy Invierno Porteno (Winter in Buenos Aires). The crowd – a mix of retirees and office workers on their lunch break – were spellbound. If Piercy’s planned upcoming recording of Piazzolla works is anything like this, it’ll be amazing.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments