I've been a member of the BMG Classical CD club for years and years. I first signed up when it was a mail-order service. BMG, like its nearest competitor Columbia House and other outfits, used to send a brochure each month, along with an order form and a postcard on which you could either accept or decline your monthly "featured selection." I made good use of such music clubs, with their marked-down prices and frequent-buyer bonuses, to build up a large and varied collection of classical CDs on the cheap. The only annoying thing about it was that you had to return your "featured selection" postcard promptly, each month, to avoid having an unwanted CD mailed and billed to you. And trust me, the featured selections were always unwanted.
BMG has evolved since then. Instead of burying me in monthly catalogs and mailings, they send me an email approximately every 20 days. Then all I have to do is click the "Respond Now" button in the email, sign in with a username and password that auto-completes on my computer, and click "No, Thanks" in the web ad for the unwanted featured selection. With broad-band internet this is the work of a minute or two. I've been clicking "No, Thanks" every 20 days or so for quite a number of years. Only this last time, I actually clicked "Yes, Please."
It's one for the record books: a BMG featured selection that actually doesn't make you scream: "Oh, please, no!" For once, BMG did not seem hell-bent on proving how poorly it can estimate what I will like after all the times I have ordered from them before. It wasn't a disk of selected opera arias by a pseudo-classical crooner, or piano quartets by a family of German tweens, or a soundtrack album for a movie I decidedly skipped. Rather, it was something I have wanted to listen to for a while: tangos by Argentine-born composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992; pictured at left).
The disk is titled Le Grand Tango, and I do recommend it. The 10 tracks on this disk from Haenssler music include a suite of tangos called "The Four Seasons," written as musical portraits of the Buenos Aires waterfront culture. They include a tango called "Oblivion" from a film score, and a title track written for the late great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. These musical souvenirs of Argentine working-class life, translated into the idioms of jazz and classical music, are among the works in which Piazzolla took a dance that carried sordid associations for many people and transformed it into a fashionable and cultured art form. With wit, energy, sophistication, and the application of a broad spectrum of musical styles and techniques, Piazzolla's tango nuevo still communicates the soul of a people whose lives are full of disappointment, despair, defiance, and restlessness.
The Haenssler disc features violinist Friedemann Eichhorn, cellist Julius Berger, and pianist Jose Gallardo. Four of the pieces only make use of the violin and piano, and the title track uses only piano and cello. With dance-based numbers ranging from 2+ to 11+ minutes in length, the cumulative result is over an hour of gripping, thought-provoking music in which the world of the Parisian concert hall merges with the lobby of a Latin American inn of ill repute. The two or three instruments put out sounds that can fool you into believing other instruments are in play, such as bandoneons or even percussion instruments. It is an altogether engaging and horizon-stretching album.