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Joanna MacGregor – Tango trio. Wiltshire Music Centre, Feb 3.

February 4, 2018

Joanna MacGregor, a virtuoso who is also an eclectic in the best way, learnt to play tango with Astor Piazzola’s band: there’s nothing like going to the source. And it shows when she digs into the man’s music in the second half of this show.

There’s much more to it than that, with a broad sweep of South American music, Brazilian as well as Argentinian, and impressive pieces by a bunch of composers whose names are much less familiar.  Osvaldo Golijov and Alberto Ginastera, anyone? More familiar are multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti (she’s worked with him, too), Jobim (a brief rendition of Insensatez) and Kurt Weill, whose Tango Ballad makes a witty encore choice.

Her trio – Adrian Brendel on cello and (once) voice and the brilliant London-resident Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale – match her verve throughout. Adewale’s solo tambourine feature is a concert in itself. Brendel digs deep into the South American melodies on bowed cello and, well, does his best imparting rhythmic punch when he plucks the strings. The concert is acoustic, and I wonder if the cello needs a pickup for pizzicato work to compete with the roar of the Steinway and the more unrestrained percussion when the trio are going full-tilt.

The whole evening was a delight, especially the second half – some outrageously flamboyant piano parts that lifted the spirits were worth the somewhat tedious trek from Bristol by themselves. It was billed as jazz in the Guardian listings – it really wasn’t, not that it matters. A duo improvisation between Adewale and Brendel (cello and doussn’gouni a potentially intriguing combination) didn’t really go anywhere, though, because improvisation isn’t really Adrian’s thing, it seemed, wonderful musician though he is.

Maybe there will be more of that when the full five-piece cello band, with violin and accordion added, convenes in London in a few weeks. But I don’t think we who heard the trio were left short-changed. The sight and sound of McGregor tearing through prodigiously packed scores, flicking the pages with her right hand with her fingers barely leaving the keys, was a recurring highlight, but there were plenty of more measured episodes to bask in the beauty of the South American melodies. A welcome, warming antidote to a dank Wiltshire Saturday evening. MacGregor, whose tenure as artistic director of Bath Music Festival produced some superb programming, is Artist in Residence at the Wiltshire Centre this year, when they celebrate their 20th anniversary, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for her future dates there.

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