Review: Porteñísimo by Orquesta Típica Sans Souci

Review: Porteñísimo by Orquesta Típica Sans Souci

Orquesta Típica Sans Souci is one of the longest performing contemporary tango bands. Established in 1999, long before the tango renaissance swept the world, it dedicates itself to re-creating the works of Miguel Caló and Osmar Maderna.

Much to my shame, I didn't even know they were still active until I came across their album Porteñísimo, released in November 2020 on Spotify. My ignorance can be partly justified by the fact that the tracks that I've had in my library to date come from their 2002 album Al mejor estilo del 40. I suppose I just assumed they were no longer in business. I always regret these quick and lazy assumptions later!

Eager to make up for my mistakes, I contacted the band over Facebook and inquired where I could buy the album. I learned that it was not yet on sale, however they graciously provided me with a complimentary copy that I used for this review. Later, I will be sure to exchange it for a CD once a purchase is possible. You, my dear reader, can meanwhile listen to it on Spotify (links below).

The music in detail

There are ten tracks on this album, four of these instrumentals. To prevent needless repetition, I will say once that all of the arrangements here are of high-fidelity with respect to the originals. They will make you feel like you got out of a time machine and listen to the Caló and Maderna bands perform live in the 1940s BsAs.

The instrumentals

Porteñísimo is the 2nd high-fidelity cover of Caló's classic I've had the fortune to encounter in the past month, the other having been recorded by Solo Tango Orquesta. Just like there it's very clean and technically superb, the only noticeable difference being in the tempos - Sans Souci starts at 64 BPM, then dips to ~ 58 in the alternating theme, enjoying its lyricism, and gradually inches back to about 62 BPM. Meanwhile the Soloists keep it very steady at 64 BPM throughout.

The next three instrumentals are covers of the work of Osmar Maderna.

Chiqué is crisp and very staccato, sounding thinner as a result. I enjoyed the precision of the musicians here, all coming nicely together on the beat. The arrangement, being true to Maderna, is somewhat intellectual and dry; I confess it did not move me very much emotionally. This is not Sans Souci's fault: this is how Maderna himself arranged it. If you are curious, I love the version recorded by Fulvio Salamanca in 1957.

Fantasía en tiempo de tango elaborates on theme of Monti's csárdás as recomposed by Maderna in 1946. The arrangement is virtuoso and there are plenty of notes flying around. The motive is very touching, however, and I think this song could work well as a swift walker, perhaps one to finish the tanda with the barrage of fast notes spraying the dance floor like bullets.

La cautiva has a positive, midtempo flow. It's a "comfort" song, meant to calm the ronda but not put it to sleep as the music moves forward at a steady pace of 65 BPM. You won't necessarily recall its motive after the tanda closes; it's not particularly memorable. What you would retain is a calm, relaxing feeling it induced. As is the case with all the other covers, the resemblance to Maderna's original is strikingly good.

The vocals

Three singers have each gotten two songs to go head to head with Raúl Iriarte, Mario Pomar, and Raúl Berón. How did they do?

Emiliano Castignola took on Raúl Iriarte with his re-imagination of Si yo pudiera comprender and Trenzas (listen here and here). I will admit to having a special preference towards Iriarte over the other Caló singers, including Berón; therefore had Castignola a steep hill to climb to win me over.

His timbre is lighter and sounds "younger", for the lack of better words; Iriarte evokes in me a picture of a 40-something man who had his heart broken many times, while in fact he was 28 when he recorded it; such is the confusion the old recordings are prone to spread.

He delivers Si yo pudiera comprender convincingly, being very precise and holding his expressions in check. He's just another member of the band here, exactly as it should be.

There are many compelling versions Trenzas, with that by Caló c. Iriarte being the relevant source here. My favorites come from the repertoire of Roulotte Tango and Andariega. Nevertheless, back to our business here: Castignola's delivery is again not as dark as Iriarte's, and as a result the overall mood is not as tragic as in the original. I liked that. There's enough pain and suffering in the classical repertoire that there's no need to always recreate it.

Moving on to Walther "Chino" Laborde, Remolino stands as the sole exception on this album as it doesn't come directly from the heritages of neither Caló nor Maderna. If my analysis is correct, however, the band is recreating the version by Francini-Pontier c. Raúl Berón as recorded in 1946. And as it happens, both of these gentlemen graduated in Miguel Caló's orchestra, and the so the lineage is actually unbroken here.

Given that few technically acceptable transfers of the Francini-Pontier orchestra are available on the market, it is especially pleasing to have a contemporary version thereof. The piece is entirely optimistic, celebratory, and I think that Walther Laborde is the right man for the job. I've heard him sing live in Belgrade with the Solo Tango Orquesta, and his performance was electrifying as it was full of life and joy.

Ausencia as recorded by Maderna c. Mario Pomar (a.k.a. Mario Corrales) in 1947 is likewise hard to get as an acceptable transfer. This version fills that gap. It is again a joyous, optimistic sound that will spread good vibes all over the ronda. If I could have made one wish were I the music director at the time of recording, I would have plead for more constrained vibratos - Laborde's are very wide and immediately noticeable. A matter of personal preference, to be sure.

I have included Luna de plata by Caló c. Iriarte only 5x in my sets to date, and I wonder why. It's a beautiful lyrical vals with just the right "kick" to it.

Sans Souci with the singer César Peduzzi kept all of it, only reducing the darkness by a few notches since Peduzzi, just like Castignola, sounds brighter and less melancholic than Iriarte. I was only a little tickled, here and there, when the violins didn't quite arrive there, intonation-wise; this is an instrument from hell in that regard, and I felt the piece needed a few more practice hours. I know they can do it, they are just fine on the other tracks!

Lluvia de abril has a special resonance for me, I couldn't hear enough of it back in 2014-2018 and played it many times. It's decidedly melancholic and Iriarte could co-create that mood like no other. And you know how it is with these "special songs": once you form a dependency on a particular interpretation, it's hard to let go when getting to know another.

I will therefore refrain from passing judgement here. The orchestra does an amazing job bringing Calo's arrangement into the 21st century, and you tell me how you like César Peduzzi in lieu of Raúl Iriarte instead! How about that?

In summary

When I reviewed the album Para Siempre by Pablo Valle Sexteto, I wondered about how much sense it makes to re-create the works of dead masters from 1940s today. The same question could poignantly be asked here, since that's exactly that Orquesta Típica Sans Souci is doing, down to Caló's quirky piano endings.

I have since come to accept that the conservation efforts help to keep the tango tradition alive just as much as any innovation. Plus, while you can get decent Caló transfers from TangoTunes, it's much harded to get your hands on a good Maderna album, not to mention Francini-Pontier.

More importantly, the fact that Sans Souci follows their influences with so much care means they are at home on the dance floor as everything they do can readily be consumed there with your embraces and feet. You won't need any warm-up, there are no tricks, rubatos, or difficult phrases - this is 1940s dance music recorded with the 21st century technology. And that is something I treasure very much.

Read some more