Ksenija Sidorova - Piazzolla Reflections - MusicWeb International

I confess that Piazzolla is a composer who has only ever been on the very fringes of my musical radar: Buenos Aires, tango, yadah yadah… However, the increased coverage that has surrounded his centenary brought him slightly closer to my radar’s centre and I'm really glad I heard this disc because I enjoyed it so much that it has definitely piqued my curiosity to find out more.

I can't claim to know much about accordionists, beyond listening to bands playing traditional music when I was a kid, but Ksenija Sidorova redefines what I thought the instrument was capable of. Not only does she get through a hail of notes as she plays, but she articulates the music with such clarity and extraordinary expressivity that I was bowled over again and again. Nowhere is she more impressive than in the spectacular bandoneon concerto Aconcagua, a piece that revives the idea of the concerto as a duel and in which, remarkably, the little bandoneon can more than hold its own. It's a miracle of compositional balance that Piazzolla avoids the solo instrument being subsumed into the orchestral forces, and you can sense Sidorova’s swagger as she brings it to pulsing life in the texture. The outer movements are a riot of excitement, while the central Moderato movement has a starlit languor to it. It’s brilliant, and makes me wonder what other treasures there might be out there in this sort of form.

I guess what kept Piazzolla out of my musical mainstream is the argument over whether his genre - and, dare we say it, his choice of instrument? - really qualifies as “serious” music. Two major thoughts sprung to mind on hearing this disc. Firstly, definitely yes! And secondly, who cares when the music is so completely, utterly, compulsively engaging? Chau Paris, the opening track, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and defies you not to be entertained, while Café 1930’s tango is so marvellously relaxed that it seems to mask the virtuosity of the musicians playing it. Soledad has a slow decadence to it, balancing the irresistible vitality of “Yo soy Maria”, and the Romance del Diablo is a sensual beauty, the most genuinely seductive devil-in-music that I know.

The disc isn’t all Piazzolla, though: Sidorova has also programmed a series of other works to “reflect” on the Argentine composer, hence the disc’s title. The other works are interpolated among the Piazzollas, and that approach works pretty well because they have interesting conversations with their surroundings. They're all by contemporary composers, and if they can't escape Piazzolla’s orbit then that's kind of the point. I loved the seductive wheeze of Voitenko’s solo Revelation, and there is an exquisite melancholy to Roffi’s Nocturne. Angelis’ Piazzolla Fantasie is an affectionate homage (in which I loved the way the accordion dashes in, panting, from nowhere), and there is a beautiful strangeness to Akhunov’s Two Keys. The Bach/Marcello transcription is utterly magical however, giving the accordion a lyrical cantabile that I never knew it possessed.

The disc ends with Piazzolla’s Libertango, the piece which, when she heard it at the age of 12, instantly convinced Sidorova that she wanted to devote her life to playing the accordion. The piece pulses with heart-thumping brilliance, and Sidorova plays it with the affection and expertise that you would expect from its place in her story. It's an exciting and brilliant way to end an exciting and brilliant disc, one that has fired my interest in Piazzolla and left me hungry for more.

Right, then: where can I find some more bandoneon concertos?...

MusicWeb International
01 May 2021