This writer’s first encounter with a bandoneon was the electroacoustic “cybersonic bandoneon” of Gordon Mumma from about 1966. In fact the instrument has its origins around the beginning of the 20th century. It is a small accordion-like instrument which relies on the performer operating a bellows while pushing buttons on the instrument which force air past reeds which vibrate at their tuned pitch. It is a folk instrument in Germany and Argentina where it became best known as the workhorse of the tango bands of the time where it continues to be popular.
It’s appearance in the avant garde with experimentalists such as Mumma did occur but the instrument became best known through the work of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) who incorporated tango in much the way Aaron Copland incorporated American folk songs into his classical works. Despite his popularization of the instrument it remains largely just one of the instruments in local tango bands and the classical world appears to have largely withdrawn its interest since Piazzolla’s passing.
Well along comes native Argentinian Juan Pablo Jofre Romarion (1983- ) who appears to want to change that. In addition to running his own tango band and promoting the music of his predecessor Piazzolla he now ventures into the classical realm with no less than a double concerto for bandoneon (of course) and violin.
Now this is not the avant garde stylings of the 1960s and 70s such as that typified by Gordon Mumma. It is also not the sort of experimentation done by Piazzolla as he incorporated his native folk musics into the realm of the classical stage. Instead we have a classically trained virtuoso bandoneon player forging his own style which is in fact quite listenable and seems to be treading a path of significance that may rival his teachers and mentors. If you need a category for this disc try neo-romantic or just world music.
It is not difficult to imagine Jofre writing for the instrument of his own virtuosity but he also manages to write a substantial part for the other instrument in this double concerto, a violin. He engages Belgian classical violinist Michael Guttman to share the stage in this large and substantial composition from 2016-17 and gives him a great deal to do.
Jofre has distinguished himself as one of the important interpreters of tango with his own band and, in particular, the works of Astor Piazzolla. Now we get to hear the next phase of this emerging artist as he ventures into the world of the classical stage bringing his diminutive folk instrument to the fore.
In this tasty little recording we get to hear two highly skilled soloists and none other than the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra who do justice to Mr. Jofre’s first (and one hopes not the last) concerto for bandoneon and violin with chamber orchestra. It is difficult to say if Jofre is going to be able to handle large musical forms (like symphonies, opera for example) but he is quite adept at writing for these three to five minute movements which constitute the concerto’s structure.
Jofre is at his best writing for the two solo instruments and some of it is ravishingly beautiful. All of it is quite listenable and one must surmise that Jofre is a rising star with great talent and that he will continue to write music of this quality and passion. It would be wonderful to hear more of the possibilities of combining the bandoneon with other classical instruments, maybe a concerto for accordion and bandoneon (of course the possibilities are boundless). Clearly this is just the beginning for this emerging artist who seems poised to take on the mantle of Argentina’s other great tango composer, Astor Piazzolla both in his compositional and performance skills.
This substantial concerto (which chooses to split the outer movements into two parts) covers five of the six tracks on this disc. The remaining three tracks are for bandoneon and violin. These duos provide a glimpse of the powerful and intimate nature of Jofre’s compositional skills. This is beautiful music and here’s hoping that this disc will be the start of a mini renaissance of tango, Piazzola, etc.
It may be some time before the bandoneon is a common instrument in classical concert halls (or maybe it will never become common) but there is no doubt that Jofre’s instrument and his music deserve serious attention. I would stay tuned if I were you.