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Pop Music Review

Troupe's Polished Tango Show Leans Toward an Elegant Style

July 13, 1999|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tango master Juan Jose Mosalini's determined crusade to maintain the relevance of the large tango orchestra made its way to the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday in the second of the summer's new world music series. The ensemble was essentially the same as the unit Mosalini has brought to Royce Hall in the past, aided by the valuable presence of dancers Gisela Graef-Marino and Segio Molini, and singer Andres Ramos.

The result was a program of elegant, if not especially visceral, chamber music tango, beautifully performed by the 12-piece ensemble, which included a seven-piece string section and three bandoneons--the melancholy-sounding, accordion-like instrument essential to tango. It was music that was eons away from the sensual, even violent sounds and dance spawned in the late 19th century in the teeming immigrant neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

But Mosalini is based in Paris, and his interpretation of tango mirrored many of the European elements--Italian song, Viennese instrumentation, the habanera that began in Spain and moved to Cuba--that contributed to the rise of tango. And the prominence of the sophisticated compositions of Astor Piazzolla in the programming--especially his lyrical "Adios Nonino" and the complex "Tres Minutos con la Realidad"--and unusual pieces such as Triolo's "Romance de Barrio," further underscored Mosalini's highly structured view of the music.

Susana Baca opened the evening in her trademark Afro Peruvian style, singing a few numbers energized by the call-and-response and surging rhythms of Africa without abandoning the lyrical melodiousness of Peru. She further enriched her program with the inclusion of more traditional numbers such as Simon Diaz's classic "Luna Llena."

A warm and beguiling presence, with a rich-sounding voice and a superbly rhythmic ensemble, Baca was for the most part an attractive performer. But her persistent problems with pitch, an occasional distraction in past appearances, have not improved and continue to undermine the effectiveness of her presentation.

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