Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
In the early 1980s the American pianist Yvar Mikhashoff (1941-1993) initiated a commissioning project, asking 127 composers to write tangos for him. He premiered 88 of the tangos in a 1985 marathon concert. A posthumously published recording of 19 tangos appeared on the New Albion label. After researching the surviving tangos in the Mikhashoff archives, pianist Hanna Shybayeva has come up with her own selection, replicating some but not all of the tangos that Mikhashoff himself recorded. Her choices represent a wide breadth of styles and personalities, from the spiky yet inviting serialism of Milton Babbitt’s It Takes Twelve to Tango to Robert Berkman’s deliberately kitschy Thorn-Torn Lips.
There are some real gems here. Nils Vigeland’s Tango À Deux, for example, recalls the harmonic subtlety and pained expressiveness of late-period Fauré. Although I’ve often found the late Brian Fennelly’s atonal style to be arid and academic, Tangoblique’s focused lyricism and prismatic textures grow on you. On the other hand, Serban Nichifor’s Tango for Yvar (recorded here for the first time) makes a gloomy and fragmented impression. Coriún Aharonián’s Y Ahora? centers around a soft, obsessively repeating note, with loud chords coming in to interrupt every now and then. Speaking of repetition, Tom Johnson’s ingenuous phrase reiterations with slight alterations each time are typical of his undervalued minimalist style, but Michael Nyman’s deceptively titled A Neat Slice of Tango actually consists of unwieldy slabs, seemingly cobbled together. Frederic Rzewski’s wry and rhythmically engaging Steptangle requires the pianist to stamp his or her foot at strategic points.
In addition to her superb technique, Hanna Shybayeva conveys a good instinct for how tangos move, particularly in Stefan Wolpe’s 1927 Tango and in her arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s ubiquitous Libertango. Sometimes she’s overly literal. For example, Shybayeva plays Chester Biscardi’s Incitation to Desire note perfectly, yet Mikhashoff’s sexy inflections and pointing up of juicy cadences are much closer to the music’s curvaceous mark. And compared to Shybayeva’s convincingly deadpan performance of William Schimmel’s Fromage Dangereux, Mikhashoff’s wider dynamic range hits harder dramatically. However, Shybayeva finds more color and registral differentiation in the multi-leveled central section of Scott Pender’s delightfully wild Ms. Jackson Dances.
Ultimately my quibbles are insignificant in light of Shybayeva’s excellent and enterprising work, not to mention her astute programming savvy. Recommended with pleasure, but don’t overlook Mikhashoff’s New Albion tango collection.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Tangos for Yvar
Reference Recording: Mikhashoff (New Albion)
Various Composers and Works
- Hanna Shybayeva (piano)
- Grand Piano - 794