Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Revisiting the tango can be one of the most daunting tasks for any musician performing and recording in music today. But that hardly seems to be the case for Amy Briggs, pianist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW ensemble. Briggs has an enviable reputation as one of the leading interpreters of living composers and has done significant work with composers such as Pierre Boulez, Esa-Pekka Salonen, (who also worked with Wynton Marsalis), to name just of the many with whom the pianist has shared the stage and studio. Briggs is an extraordinarily gifted musician and pianist who brings technique enriched with superb expression to the instrument, and a much-admired dynamic. She is extremely sprightly, is brimming with ideas and this is reflected in her music, which spins and pirouettes, rustles and sways with controlled emotion, revolutionary zeal and courage.

On Tangos for Piano, Briggs excels with her approach to the legendary form of music and dance with passion, grace and fire. Ideas flow with bristling ingenuity as she provides lesson after lesson in the art of harmony and rhythm, something that few pianists have done with such natural flair. Her readings appear to be faithful to the tangos that have been composed specially for this project by renowned composers such as David Rakowski, Stacy Garrop and others. At the same time, she lets her febrile spirit dream up fiery improvisatory cadenzas that turn the melodies inside out, chop them up and re-string the notes in fresh new lines that bounce and swerve and swagger like glowing necklaces. Her approach to harmony is astounding and even in dissonant passages she seems to find the perfect chords that brings blushes to the music before her.

Briggs takes apart the most contemporary of the compositions— that make delightfully outrageous melodic and harmonic demands on the ear—with affectionate caresses and playful interpretations of the tangos exacting, stylish rhythm. Her program opens with a stunning, most reverent reading of Igor Stravinsky's little-known "Tango" and she gives David Rakowski's "Zipper Tango" the lively irreverent treatment that it deserves. On Pablo Ortiz's "Piglia" Briggs displays extraordinary control as she rips through mind-bending arpeggios. Her performance on other tangos is just as astounding. She is appropriately furtive on Jason Eckardt's "Tango Clandestino," Zen-like on the epigrammatic "Astoria," from fellow composer, Amy Williams and in absolutely superb touch on the demanding, "Fantango" by Jukka Tiensuu.

There are 22 tangos on this program, including one from Astor Piazzolla. All do extreme justice to the space and time compendium in which they have been performed and preserved in this fine recording. In giving it her all, the tango has been more than revisited by Briggs: it has been recreated in its statuesque dance and rhythm. Yet for all the taking-apart of the form that she has done, Amy Briggs has actually succeeded in returning the spirited form to its historic roots to the roaring ocean of sound that pours its heart out in the Rio de la Plata.

Track Listing: Tango; Requests; Tango Variations on a Cantus; Zipper Tango (Tango étude on grace notes); Tango?; Tango à deux; Teeny Tango; Tango Beep Beep; Steptangle; Tango Clandestino; Tandy's Tango; Tagrango (Being a Brief Identity Crisis for Piano Solo); Astoria; Tangled in Smoke; Esperanza (Hermit Crab Tango); Mango; Piglia; Fantango; Tango Variations; Tango Si; Tangozilla; Escualo.

Personnel: Amy Briggs: piano.

Title: Tangos for Piano | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Ravello Records


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