One of the happier minor features of the Cornelia Street Café is that from some seats in the house you can change your vantage by watching the musicians in a wall mirror rather than face on. This isn’t a bad metaphor for the reflections of and on musical forms that I saw and heard when Pedro da Silva and Daniel Binelli presented TANGO-FADO on Sunday last. The iconic instruments of their respective traditions were featured, the Portuguese guitar and the bandoneón, as were the skills and talents of the musicians, one of whom, Binelli, is often cited as the greatest living master of his instrument. I can see why.

I have seen him play before, but the one-on-one juxtaposition with Da Silva made the dimensions of his greatness particularly clear. He doesn’t so much play the bandoneón as coax it to speak, wheedling from it sounds that have not occurred to it before, coddling its needs for a while, then making it offers that it can’t refuse. He less directs the sound than opens the way for it; prods rather than pushes; cajoles instead of coercing. Binelli, the older of the two musicians, is at a different place in his art than Da Silva, a nimble and intriguing guitarist, who produces wondrous effects, but by evidently conscious effort, the which, in fact, he shares with the audience, discussing the particulars of the musical intervals that distinguish the Portuguese from other guitars, the nature of the picks and the finger work, and his own experiments with and breaks from the usual technique.

The program Sunday was good-natured and peppered by onstage banter, and rather more varied in its music than was, as it were, contracted by its title. There was less of either tango or fado than I expected, but everything was connected to those two great and moving genres in one way or another, whether by composer, venue, cultural practice, or, failing any of that, the very musicians and instruments that were before us, their sounds like reflective surfaces of diverse but related traditions, strings pattered as though by raindrops, atop the grudging bellow of a sleeping animal, stirred in its slumber by the master’s touch.

For information about future events at Cornelia Street Café, click here.

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