On April 2nd, the fabulous oboe and English Horn player Cally Banham, released her second solo album. Called Tango to the Cor. This album features, as the name suggests, various tango offerings arranged for her group Cortango. The CD consists of not just music written by, the great tango composers such as Astor Piazolla, and Carlos Gardel but also composers such as  Roberto Firpo, Augustin Bardi and Mario Melfi. There are also some fabulous mashups on the disc, for example the pairing of music Joplin and Carlos Gardel, and  Chopin with Fioravanti Di Cicco.

Cally Banham is currently the Principal English Horn Player with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra she has performed as soloist with on many occasions. Before joining the St. Louis Symphony, Banham was Solo English horn with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Principal Oboe with the Memphis Symphony, and fellow with the New World Symphony.

For Banham the passion for tango came to her as a dancer. As she explains, “I first came to tango as a dancer. I was learning the social dancing aspect of it .Taking classes in St. Louis, taking private lessons things like that…traveling around to festivals, and I even travelled to Buenos Aires for a couple of summers to study tango there. During the time I was studying dancing I would be in class I was just mesmerized by this incredible music! The feeling I got was so much like when I first discovered Brahms Symphonies…I thought ‘I love it so much I wish I could play it!” Banham mentioned this to a friend after class, and the friend pointed out that as a professional musician, she could indeed play this music.

It’s from these experiences that the fabulous St. Louis based Cortango ensemble was formed in 2013. Banham brought together friends of hers from the St. Louis Symphony and jazz pianist Adam Mannes to create an ensemble that has been preforming tango music for audiences of all kinds for a little more than ten years.

Banham and Cortango have taken it upon themselves to create arrangements that incorporate English horn, and still stay true to Banham’s vision of performing the best in tango. With Banham’s research and experience she has become very much a tango scholar. One of her true passions is to spread the love of this dance form to audiences.

When listeners think of tango they might think of the bandoneon, or perhaps violin or guitar to create the sounds of an evening in Argentina. Surprisingly though, the English horn works! It’s like the English horn is subbing in for the human voice, which is exactly what Banham had in mind. “The English horn is a very beautiful, soulful instrument. I wanted it to be presented with variation, so that you can hear, as the album goes on, all of the colors and all of the styles that I can get with this wonderful instrument which is like a human voice.”

This is a disc that is full of amazing, down the line tango from composers that many might be familiar such as Astor Piazolla, and Carlos Gardel, but there is also passionate, visceral, fantastic dance music from composers such as Robert Firpo, Julio de Caro, and Fioravanti Di Cicco. Much like wine connoisseurs will eat cucumbers to cleanse their palette, Banham has included some scaled back selections for exactly that purpose. As she explains, “I structured the CD so that there would be these robust tangos, and then to borrow from the culinary world… I wanted to have sort of an amuse-bouches thrown in…something to cleanse the ear palette.” The amuse-bouches on the album are more scaled back, and much more intimate selections. Pieces such as an arrangement of the Tango from Albeniz’s piano cycle España for just English horn and guitar, or Augustin Bard’s stunning Nunca tuvo novio for just English horn and organ. “Those intimate tracks are spaced on purpose to kind of separate the larger offerings. And that way you go on this journey that sort of has hills and valleys and different kinds of sonorities,” says Banham.

For anyone who wants to get up and dance… or maybe just sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy an Argentinian provoleta  this disc is a must have!  If you want to experience the passion and intensity of this music there a few better groups the Cortango to hear do it.  Let them take you on a musical ride to the sultry side of Argentinian tango.

¡Larga vida al tango!