Imagine, if you will, if Johann Sebastian Bach had encountered tango music or a bandoneón, would he have written in that style or for the instrument in the way he did for the cello (think of his cello suites)? That is the feeling for which Denis Plante and Stéphane Tétreault are striving in this project – a set of six dance suites composed by Plante for cello and bandoneón (and a bit of whistling here and there).
Of the bandoneón, Plante says, “After its obscure beginnings in the 19th-century German countryside, the bandoneon became, in the 20th century, the essential instrument of the Argentinian tango orchestra, before passing into obscurity.” Here, Plante is bringing it back into its rightful place as a vital piece of the musicmaking he shares with Tétreault, an exchange not just with each other but with the (imagined) audience: “(There has been) a real-time dialogue between musician and dancers. It is in this spirit of conversation that the Suite Tango pour violoncelle et bandonéon has been composed.”
I’ve had this album more or less on daily spins since coming across it. I first encountered this style of music in a 1996 album from Argentina-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, and was delighted to discover this project – Plante and Tétreault together have produced music that is by turns joyful, contemplative, assertive, coy, passionate, and shy… in short, a folio of shades of human experience, captured in musical and dance format.
Although I could easily gravitate to the more uptempo pieces on the record, I find myself drawn to the fifth suite, titled “Mística,” which evokes a sense both of longing and displacement – as if it’s a musical love note to things left behind, or undone. The second suite, “Bach to Tango,” most transparently hearkens back to Bach – in the title of course, but also stylistically less tango and more baroque in expression in the first three sections… but the fourth and last is a wake-up call for the listener! Stéphane Tétreault excels throughout but his playing in the third suite, “Noche de tango,” is a particular highlight of expressiveness and tone.
Whether you’re completely new to tango music and/or unsure about classical music, this is an intriguing and unique example of both, one in which the limits of each style aren’t so much exceeded as extended to create something distinctive. Both musicians bring skill and expressiveness to their respective instruments in this project, and I look forward to hearing more of their collaborations in the future.