Camarada’s highly charged Te Amo Tango program at the Mingei International Museum on Sunday (February 18) continued San Diego’s infatuation with tango, so recently inspired by San Diego Opera’s sexy production of Astor Piazzolla’s tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires. With Uruguayan bandoneon master Raúl Jaurena and the tango dance duo of Marizabel Arango and Todd Martin, Camarada captured the passion and sizzle of South America’s most celebrated musical export.
Following the chamber music ensemble’s customary adroit programming, the dozen tangos and milongas were ordered for maximum contrast of mood and instrumentation, with the elegant, polished dancers participating in every third number. Most of the works were either composed or arranged by Jaurena, and the program’s title Te Amo Tango is also the title of his Latin Grammy Award winning 2007 album.
Tangos such as Jaurena’s “A Miguel Angel” exuded the expected dark, sultry mood and driving tempo, while Jaurena’s arrangement of “Tierra Querida” revealed a sunny, jovial disposition without innuendo. With its syncopated rhythms and sly hesitations, Toto Damario’s program opening “Noches del Odeon” suggested jazz influences associated with Piazzolla’s nuevo tango style.
Piazzolla was represented by a few selections, including a delicious, leisurely “Milonga sin palabras” that opened with a shimmering duet played by violinist David Buckley and flutist Beth Ross Buckley. Soon the duo was joined by pianist Dana Burnett with a roiling accompaniment that recreated the pulse of vibrant Spanish guitars, a keyboard technique developed to a high level by Manuel De Falla, Enrique Granados, and others of that nationalist school.
Jaurena offered his own tribute to Piazzolla with “Pantaleon y los otros,” a fast, rousing tango for the entire ensemble propelled by Burnett’s piano and contrabass, noted jazz artist Jeff Pekarek. A beautifully crafted fugal section displayed the composer’s homage to his mentor, as did his title: Pantaleón was Piazzolla’s middle name, although he disliked it and rarely used it.
Jaurena’s bandoneon played a key role in most of the pieces, not only providing its trademark reedy sonority, but taking off with soaring themes or punctuating the texture with sharp, percussive chords. In his Prelude, for example, the bandoneon raced the tempo, then surprised the listeners with unexpected hockets neatly delineated by crisp, astringent chords, not to mention amazing feats of counterpoint.
Although the New York City based Jaurena was a new performer with Camarada, he fit splendidly into their meticulous ensemble, and the four Camarada players returned the favor by absorbing the authentic flavor and nuance of tango rubato he brought to Camarada. With Jaurena Camarada is making a tango recording, and if it captures the spirit and finesse of their Mingei concert, it will be a welcome addition to the genre.