Though the weather was not auspicious (departing concertgoers were greeted by a blanket of white), a close-to-capacity crowd enjoyed the captivating program of tangos presented by the collaborative efforts of the Red Clay Saxophone Quartet and the Tango Duo under the auspices of Music for a Great Space at the Christ United Methodist Church. Both are local ensembles who perform at an international level. Red Clay is made up of Susan Fancher, soprano, Robert Faub, alto, Stephen Stusek, tenor, and Mark Engebretson, baritone (Fancher and Engebretson are wife and husband); Tango Duo, of Lorena Guillén, soprano, and Alejandro Rutty, piano.
The evening opened with two works for saxes alone. First was a tango written in homage from one composer to another – "A Don Agustin Bardi," by Horacio Salgán. Bardi, born in 1884, was a member of the oldest generation of tango composers; Salgán (b.1916), from the subsequent generation. The arrangement, as was the case for almost all the tangos heard on the program was by Rutty, who is professor of composition at UNC Greensboro.
Next up came the first three of the four movements of perhaps the most well-known work on the program, the Histoire du tango by Astor Piazzolla, originally written for solo flute and guitar, and heard here in a fine arrangement by Claude Voirpy. Each movement depicts a different epoch (1900, 1930, 1960, and the present). "Café 1930,"slow and pathétique, achieved a transcendent Bachian perfection in the Quartet's rendition of the maggiore – a moment of sheer bliss and nostalgia.
Next came a set combining all the performers, beginning with Piazzolla's familiar "Escolaso," here rendered by Rutty with the quartet. There followed four classic tangos featuring Lorena Guillén, a diminutive figure but a major presence on stage, with each word and syllable delivered with consummate grace and rhythm, inflected to the maximum, without a hint of overdone sentiment or kitsch, as dry as the driest martini, bringing out all the wit and feeling of the lyrics. The way she lingered on the second syllable of "Nostalgias" drew a hot tear from this world-weary reviewer's eye – like a knife to the heart. The first half closed with a "Tango Virtuoso" for quartet by Thierry Escaich (b.1965), with a notable moto perpetuo for the soprano.
The second half began with a set for the Tango Duo on their own, during which one might admire, unhindered, the expressive and virtuoso touch of Rutty as pianist, equal in merit to his spouse as interpreter, who translated at sight the lyrics for each tango before singing. The Red Clay returned for a set of instrumental tangos, first "Morango... almost a Tango" by Boston composer Thomas Oboe Lee, based around a basso ostinato, in an excellent arrangement by Stusek, and then two modern tangos by Rutty framing two classics by Bardi and Delfino.
The tutti ended the evening with diva Lorena Guillén leading the ensemble in three older tangos, and most appropriately, closing by shedding a tear for the "Old Times" ("Tiempos viejos") evoked in the final composition by Canaro and Romero.
Congratulations to the producers of the series and to Lincoln Financial for sponsoring a concert which introduced listeners to such fine music in performances on the level of sheer perfection. Bravi tutti!