Duo Cello e Basso Stays True to the Spirit of the ‘Seasons’ on ‘Let’s Tango’

“Tango is a natural for strings—it has a vocal flexibility and expressiveness that is embodied by this music."

By Greg Cahill | From the March-April 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

“As a wife-and-husband team for many years, we know exactly what the other is thinking and really don’t need to talk much anymore,” says French double bassist Pascale Delache-Feldman when asked about playing with her duo partner, cellist Emmanuel Feldman. “Luckily, we are musically and artistically very compatible, but we always challenge each other to give our best and stay true to the music.”

Duo-Cello-e-Basso-Lets-Tango
Let’s Tango, Duo Cello e Basso (Parma)

That fruitful relationship added magic to Duo Cello e Basso’s latest recording, Let’s Tango (Parma), featuring a new arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, as well as other Piazzolla (1921–92) works and music by French-Argentine tango composer Carlos Gardel (1890–1935). 

“Tango is a natural for strings—it has a vocal flexibility and expressiveness that is embodied by this music,” Emmanuel says. “The lyrical qualities of the tango lend themselves to the use of stringed techniques, like portato, glissandi, large contrasts, and variations in vibrato, intensity, and color. When preparing for this CD, we listened to the original Piazzolla band, where he utilized the violin and viola quite frequently, and those players performed incredibly expressively. We took our cues from their abandon and masterful bending of tempo, use of special tango performance techniques, and use of improvisation on the original melodies to immerse ourselves in true ‘tango’ playing.”

Strings asked the couple to further discuss Let’s Tango.

Carlos Gardel’s “Por una Cabeza”

How did you become enamored of the tango? 

Pascale: The more I play this music, the more I discover its beauty. It seems that it has infinite power in its emotions and that you can always go deeper. 

Emmanuel: I got hooked after performing Piazzolla’s “Grand Tango” for the first time and then hearing Pascale perform “Kicho,” which is a gem of a piece. 

What led you to record these pieces at this time? 

Emmanuel: It all started with our arrangement of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which we performed in 2017 at the Kennedy Center with pianist Magdalena Adamek. Later, after many performances of the Seasons, we added Piazzolla’s original works for cello and bass and our new Carlos Gardel transcriptions, and then we had a full program for a CD that we recorded with pianist Victor Cayres in 2019. 

What first drew you to Piazzolla’s work? 

Emmanuel: I love Piazzolla—his music is perfect for the cello. It is lyrical with long flowing lines that have a certain longing and expressive openness that is liberating for the player and the audience. The Seasons are amazing pieces, and I have always wanted to play them. 

Pascale Delache-Feldman with double bass
Pascale Delache-Feldman. Photo: Robert Torres

Pascale: When I was a child growing up in France, tango was very popular. The traditional tango was introduced in the 1920s in Paris, where it was seen as exotic, exciting, and sensual. Piazzolla revolutionized it by using elements of jazz and classical forms. What draws me to his music are the beautiful lyrical melodies and captivating and hypnotic rhythms that give that incredible energy. And the bass is perfectly suited for that. 


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How do you feel when you play his music? 

Emmanuel: Piazzolla’s music is empowering; every performance is an opportunity to infuse the melodies with emotion, daring, and vocal flair. The spirit of the music that Piazzolla creates is hypnotic and rhythmical, with emotional power that is deep and meaningful. 

Pascale: I feel grounded with a sense of freedom at the same time. The rhythmic element is driving the entire group, and the lyrical melodies are liberating. It is deeply emotional and meaningful. It’s about longing for the old country, and I can relate to that, being an immigrant myself. 

Piazzolla once said, “For me, tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.” What do you think he meant by that? How were you able to stay true to that sentiment? 

Pascale: Piazzolla wanted to elevate traditional tango to a new art form and created the Nuevo Tango. He wanted the music to speak for itself and be played on the concert stage. It is no longer just a dance; it’s an entire range of musical expression with his own heartfelt harmonies and complex rhythms. Through the recording, we focused on staying true to the spirit of the music. 

Emmanuel: I totally feel that sentiment, as I think he was speaking to the colors and forms of the Nuevo Tango that he was creating harmonically and that are uniquely his own and are startling to hear—and sensational. Also, I think he was trying to break away from the idea that tango was just for dance alone and was making a statement that this was music that could stand on its own merit. 

Some readers might be less familiar with the works of Carlos Gardel. Tell me about his music and why you chose to include it. 

Pascale: Carlos Gardel was a songwriter, singer, and actor, and he popularized the traditional tango worldwide. Interestingly, he was born in Toulouse, France, where I grew up. He then moved to Argentina at the age of two with his mother. When Piazzolla moved to New York, his father played Gardel’s music every evening, so he grew up listening to it. Later on, when Piazzolla moved back to Buenos Aires, Gardel heard Piazzolla perform on the bandoneon and invited him to tour with his band, but Piazzolla’s father felt that he was too young to go. It was on this fateful tour that Gardel died in a plane crash at the height of his fame. His music was suave, melancholic, and dramatic. Piazzolla definitely was influenced by his music, and we felt it was a natural progression to include Gardel on this album. 

Emmanuel: Gardel wrote the “El Día que me Quieras” and “Por una Cabeza,” which we perform on the album. These popular songs are known all over the world, and at every concert where we play them, there are people singing along with us in the audience. “Por una Cabeza” was featured in many movies, such as Scent of a Woman. We wanted to include his music for its beauty and to show the direct lineage of his music that was passed on to Piazzolla, who played his music in his youth. 

Emmanuel Feldman with cello
Emmanuel Feldman. Photo: Robert Torres

Why do you think tango has become so popular with classical audiences? 

Pascale: I think that it was Piazzolla’s intention to reach out to all audiences through his music. In New York, he grew up listening to jazz, classical, and klezmer music and was influenced by the greats—Arthur Rubinstein, Alberto Ginastera, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman to name a few. He also studied with Nadia Boulanger, who, after hearing him perform with his band in a cabaret in Paris, encouraged him to pursue his true calling: the radical reinvention of the tango. In his music, he uses forms that feel familiar to classical audiences. I also feel that his music expresses so many emotions, from sensual to melancholic to passionate, that everyone can connect to. 

Emmanuel: Classical audiences are always excited to hear more interesting pieces with diversity in the programming, with more color and flair in the musical selections, all of which tango fulfills. Particularly, Piazzolla’s music is closely related to classical forms, since he studied with Boulanger and other classical composers, so it feels familiar to classical listeners but is more sensual and has a freedom that elongates and sculpts phrases and injects a certain rhythmic energy that I know audiences love. 


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What were you trying to accomplish with this recording? 

Pascale: We wanted to stay true to the music by emulating Piazzolla’s style, which meant pushing the boundaries of what was possible on the cello and bass. And, of course, we want to share this beautiful music with listeners everywhere. 

What were the challenges of arranging this for bass and cello? 

Pascale: In the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, we used José Bragato’s trio version (violin, cello, and piano) and the challenge was to make sure that the bass not only played the lyrical cello voice but also had the role of the bass line with its captivating harmonies and rhythms. So the bass part has a very wide range of tessitura from the bottom to the end of the fingerboard, which made it challenging. 

How did you handle those challenges? 

Pascale: By practicing very, very slowly!

Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires: No. 1, Buenos Aires Summer

What made the biggest impression on you when you heard the final recording? 

Pascale: I was really impressed with the energy of the music and the richness of the sound. Our recording engineer, Jesse Lewis, really captured the sound of the hall and was able to balance all the instruments beautifully. Definitely not an easy task when it comes to recording the bass! 


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Emmanuel: I was impressed by how deep the blend of sound was and how exciting the energy of the ensemble was too. Pascale and I were both happy with the improvised tango/string techniques we used at the sessions, like chicharra (behind the bridge notes), tambour and golpe de caja (percussion techniques), and latigo, which is a whiplike effect with glissandi. 

What do you hope listeners will take away from the project? 

Pascale: To me, this music is very healing because it goes through the entire gamut of emotions, so I hope listeners will get a deeper appreciation and connection to this extraordinary music and feel more grounded and peaceful after listening to the album. 

Emmanuel: We were going for a musical statement that was bolder than we had ever presented with an energizing new repertoire, pushing the envelope further technically and expressively than we had ever done before.

What Duo Cello e Basso Plays

Instruments & Bows

Pascale: “In this recording, I played on an unknown 19th century Italian bass and a bow by James Tubbs.”
Emmanuel: “I perform on a Romano Marengo Rinaldi cello from Turin and Dodd and Simon cello bows.”

Strings

Pascale: “On this bass, I use Pirastro Original Flexocor strings on the top two strings and Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore on the bottom two strings.”
Emmanuel: “I am a Jargar artist using the new Evoke cello strings.”