I first reviewed an all-tango program by Camarada in 2018, and since then this estimable San Diego chamber music ensemble has presented annual concerts centered around the Argentine tango. It would be foolish to fault Camarada Artistic Director Beth Ross Buckley for such consistency, since this repertory is so rich, and it draws an immediate, robust emotional response from audiences.
And for music organizations based in San Diego, a city that borders Mexico, paying attention to the music culture of Latin America should be a no-brainer. With San Diego Opera’s successful commissioned opera last fall, El último sueño de Frida y Diego, and Music Director Rafael Payare’s more regular programming of Latin American composers for San Diego Symphony concerts, the city’s major arts organizations are finally on board, but Camarada was championing the music of Latin American composers long before it embraced tango.Saturday’s Camarada concert at The Conrad, The Essence of Tango, offered a dozen tangos, including a few milongas, the dance that birthed tango. The four accomplished instrumentalists, flutist Beth Ross Buckley, violinist David Buckley, pianist Dana Burnett, and bassist Andrés Martín, were joined by the expected pair of tango dancers, Carolina Juarena and Marcelo Mesa, and operatic baritone Gregorio González.
Among this delectable musical banquet, the most exciting selections included instruments, dancers, and singer together, especially Astor Piazzolla’s “Vuelvo al Sur.” A song expressing the globetrotting Piazzolla’s nostalgia for life in his native Argentina, “Vuelvo al Sur” is not a wistful memory, but rather a vivid evocation of the impassioned musical milieu in which the composer grew up. The instrumentalists’ vibrant ensemble and González’s resonant baritone provided an ardent interpretation of the work, and the dancers graceful striding across the stage of The Conrad certainly captured the flair of Piazzolla’s score. González also gave a winning account of the earliest tango with a vocal part, S. Castriota and P. Conturisi’s “Mi Noche Triste,”
Aníbal Troilo’s rhapsodic instrumental “Responso” inspired bold steps from the dancers and gave an insightful glimpse of the tango’s musical development in the 1930’s. Piazzolla got his professional start at age 19 playing in Troilo’s orchestra, which at that time was Buenos Aires’ premier tango orchestra. The two musicians collaborated on “Contrabajeando,” a rambunctious tango with lavish contrabass solos, which gave Camarada’s Martín ample opportunity to indulge in his considerable technical prowess. Martín arranged “Contrabajeando” as well as the rest of the concert’s music, but in this piece he generously provided bravura solos for the other members of the quartet to complement his flourishes. His commissioned work “Tango Bajo del Agua” received a rousing reception from The Conrad’s audience, and it displayed the inventive thematic wealth and well-crafted structure of his First Double Bass Concerto, performed by the San Diego Symphony last spring.
Jake Heggie’s “A Hundred Thousand Stars,” a notable piece with only tangental connections to tango, gave González the chance to unleash the dramatic range of his powerful baritone. Taken from Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch, an opera about gay lives lost in the Holocaust, this gripping aria manages to find rays of hope in such tragic loss.
The concert was presented by Camarada on Saturday, February 4., 2023, at La Jolla’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.