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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Though Daniel Barenboim was born in Argentina, it's a bit of a stretch to call him an Argentinean: his family left Buenos Aires for Israel in 1951, when he was nine, and for much of his career he's staked his reputation on music from Europe and North America. But lately he's broadened his repertoire, both as a pianist and as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to include works from Latin countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico; the tango craze of the 1990s no doubt made this an easy step for him to take, and in fact he released a trio recording of tangos in 1996, Mi Buenos Aires querido (Teldec), which he's since followed with others. Barenboim has apparently been regaling his friends with tango tunes at parties for years, but at first I found his public performances of the music a little too stiff, as if the great concert pianist were afraid to loosen his white tie. That didn't last long: when the CSO visited Buenos Aires earlier this season, he thrilled the crowd by playing several tangos as encores--including some of the same ones he and the orchestra will play here. The program for these performances is a worthwhile first step toward correcting the CSO's long neglect of Latin American music: it opens with a piece by Mexican composer Jose Moncayo and two by Argentina's Alberto Ginastera, then closes with five tangos, including tunes by Gerardo Rodriguez, Carlos Gardel, Horacio Salgan, and Astor Piazzolla. Moncayo belonged to a nationalist cultural movement, and his Huapango (1941) blends Mexican folk strains with elements of the European romantic tradition. Ginastera's Tres danzas argentinas (originally written for solo piano) is among his earliest works, and pales in comparison with the assured and ambitious Variaciones concertantes (1953)--a series of impressionistic set pieces highlighting various instrumental soloists, in which the theme morphs from section to section through sharp shifts in tempo. The tango tunes range from traditional (Rodriguez's "La cumparsita," composed in 1917, may be the most familiar tango ever) to nuevo (Piazzolla's "Adios Nonino" and "Decarissimo"), and the CSO's sleek, bright instrumental color should suit them especially well. Barenboim will be the pianist on the tangos, all of which have been arranged for piano and orchestra by his friend Jose Carli. Thursday through Saturday, February 15 through 17, 8 PM, and Tuesday, February 20, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

TED SHEN

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