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Incitation to Desire
Yvar Mikhashoff (piano) plays Tangos composed for him
New Albion NA073CD [70.07]
  Amazon USA

Yvar Mikhashoff is a name to conjure with for those who used to attend the Almeida Festival in London each summer during its heyday in the '70s & early '80s. Yvar was the prime mover responsible for its innovative and unique programming. Introducing many American composers to UK, he played a leading part as pianist in chamber music and will always be remembered for his marathon thematic piano recitals. The last of those given in Islington, when he was already debilitated from the illness which was to kill him, was devoted to the topic of death, and was a brave and typically exuberant occasion which no-one present will ever forget.

A prodigious sight reader, Yvar Mikhashoff devoured music with an appetite only equalled by his others; his musical interests embraced all categories with uncommon catholicity of taste. The notes introducing this celebratory CD in his memory do not gloss over his lamented death from AIDS before he was 50, a major loss in many continents - he 'knew everyone in new music and managed to roam the globe as composer, performer, commissioner, advisor and producer'.

In an earlier incarnation he was a professional ballroom dancer and that led to his persuading all his composer friends to write a tango for a project which succeeded his Waltz Project of the '70s. Eventually there were over a hundred tangos, many of them given at a three-day concert in New York, 1986.

This last CD, recorded in 1992, gives a true impression of Yvar the pianist at his versatile best. His knowledge of the dance physically as well as musically undoubtedly contributes to bringing this larger-than-life figure vividly and as he was before those who did not know him. Those chosen for this collection include Bennett, Cage, Copland, Foss, Nancarrow & 13 other composers not known to me, mostly American. They cover a vast stylistic range, from near-traditional to avant-garde, whimsical to the lascivious Incitation to Desire of Chester Biscardi. One of the most sensational is by David Jaggard, who progressively elaborates the second half of the tango's 4th beat. Cage's Perpetual Tango is a re-write of Tango perpetuale by Satie. Dane Rudyhar at 90 was reluctant to compose a new tango in 1985, but completed for Yvar an unfinished one he had begun in 1915! Aaron Copland too, in his old age, dredged the past for a tango from a ballet of 1935, arranging this example of the tango-boleros of the thirties for solo piano. Nancarrow's Tango? in three staves & three interchangeable rhythms, is of course 'nearly imposssible for human hands', but not for Yvar's!

Mikashoff's basic tone is hard edged, with quite sparing pedalling, and although he was not one to always worry overmuch about the subtlest nuances of tone and phrasing, that did not preclude quiet and sensitive playing when needed, as here in Jackson Hill's evocation of Japan Tango No Tango. On this last of his many CDs one can especially enjoy his precision of rhythm and commanding gestural authority. The sequence works well, and leaves you easily convinced that the Tango, brought back into esteem by Piazzolla, remains as viable to fire the imaginations of composers of the 21st Century as were the waltz and mazurka in the past, and with greater potential than Ragtime, which has had such a vogue again and features in the 'magnificently, hilariously schizophrenic' final item by Robert Berkman.

There was an apt tribute to Yvar Mikhashoff in two recitals of his tango collection at the Almeida Festival 2000, reviewed by S&H. I have no problem in concurring with the writer of the liner notes that this CD celebration of 'the dance of desire' is 'a telling memorial to an extraordinary pianist'.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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