The fifth 5 stars review in Fanfare
March 3, 2023
Of the portrait albums dedicated to Astor Piazzolla, this one, Album for Astor, is among the most interesting and varied. Beyond the constant of Bjarke Mogensen’s accordion, it offers a timbrally diverse program of ensembles employing various colors and configurations that keep interest and emotions running high.
The disc is programmed with a commencing and concluding solo, bookending duos and ensembles. Of particular interest is the fleet-footed Vibraphonissimo, originally composed for the wonderful jazz musician Gary Burton; an energetic concert performance was recorded by Burton and Piazzolla. Mogensen lays down his slightly more reflective but equally engaging version in the company of Johan Bridger, his vibes playing more than up to the task of filling some impressive shoes. I have to confess, with some trepidation, that I enjoy Mogensen’s version of “Café 1930” above all others I’ve experienced. Its opening phrases slide in with something approaching subtle abandon, and when Mathias Heise enters on chromatic harmonica, the merging of timbres is a thing to behold, liquidly organic as if played by the same instrument.
Of the chamber settings, played by the Danish Chamber Players, the whimsical Novitango leads the pack. There’s something delicious about the winds and accordion octaves as they unfold in this ambience, and as the music flits and glides effortlessly along, Mogensen’s playing pushes and pulls at the pulse even as he sits firmly astride it. A bit of an outlier is the beautiful and wistful Tristango, in which the accordionist overdubs to wonderful effect. Talk about listening to yourself play! This version rivals even that of the composer.
Then, there is the album closer, the gorgeous cadenza from “Despertar,” which Piazzolla wrote for the Kronos quartet. There’s something about the sound of Mogensen’s accordion here that sums up everything that makes the disc work so well. The instrument growls even as it sings, a characteristic Mogensen observes in his brief but poignant contribution to the liner notes, the sound ebbing and flowing, encapsulating the many emotions flowing through Piazzolla’s music and the often turbulent life from which it emerged. As with all Our Recordings productions, the superbly recorded disc is capped by thorough notes on the music and musicians. Joshua Cheek’s contributions are an especially welcome addition to an all-around first-rate program capping off the composer’s centenary year.