This Sydney based saxophone quartet has had great success in repertoire running from Bach to the Weimar period. In fact, their last release (Ballads of the Pleasant Life on ABC) saw them providing appropriate accompaniment for the dependable baritone Peter Coleman-Wright in songs by Kurt Weill, Eisler and even early Schoenberg. Tango de Saxos sees them in repertoire from South America with particular emphasis on the late tango meister Astor Piazzolla.

Nexas

At the height of his popularity in the 80s and 90s, Piazzolla’s compositions were played by pianists, guitarists and string quartets to great advantage. So, if it can work for a string quartet, why not a saxophone one? The smoothness in the ensemble playing is very fine indeed. And with the sonorities and wide variety of tone colours offered by this wind ensemble, it becomes apparent that Piazzolla is not too far removed from the sound world of Weill and others – that is, once the underlying German oom pah pah effects are removed. And of course, Weill himself was familiar with the tango (the Threepenny Opera‘s Tango Ballade and Youkali). Championed by fellow Argentinian, Ginastera, he would study with Boulanger in Paris years after the family had moved to New York, where he luxuriated in jazz and the tangos of Carlos Gardel. 

Bringing the quartet together with pianist Daniel Rojas and bandoneon player Stephen Cuttriss as guests, this disc show a wide diversity of tango styles. And even upon listening to the quartet alone, there is no missing either of the guest instruments, so completely at home is the quartet in this seductive repertoire. Nexas brings out not only the lyrical side of the tango with its often aching and earthy melodies, while rhythmically they are completely at home with the anticipatory ‘dragged’ beat that underpins not only these compositions, but the dance itself.

Piazzolla is well represented with his Angel suite, the popular Muerte del Angel and his ingenious appropriation of Vivaldi’s ideas in the four part Las Cuartos Estaciones Porteñas, which has often played in tandem with The Four Seasons – matching one movement for the other, thereby juxtaposing the moods and different weather patterns between Mediterranean and Latin American seasons. It is here that the aforementioned guests are heard to great effect, successfully capturing the mood of the composer’s original instrumentation. The quartet manages to effectively evoke the unique orchestration that Piazzolla’s compositions require with the smoothness of intonation as legato as any string ensemble. This is truly remarkable stuff. 

Listen on Apple Music

Composers: Piazzolla et al.
Works: Tangos for saxophone quartet
Performers: Nexas Quartet
Label: Da Vinci Classics C000421