This is the second article in an occasional series about tango songs that have special qualities but which are not heard as often as they deserve.
Uno, with music by Mariano Mores, setting a lyric by Enrique Discépolo, has several things in common with the song featured in the previous article, Discepolin. That song was a tribute to the lyricist of Uno, and two of the leading recordings were by the orchestras of Troilo and Fresedo. Now, with Uno, Troilo and Fresedo feature again, but I also consider several other recordings (and there are many more, besides).
Discépolo’s lyric is superb. It speaks of a man betrayed, fearful of loving again. Derrick Del Pillar’s translation to English is worth knowing.
Empty now from loving and from crying
over so much betrayal!
Most people are likely to choose their preferred version based on the singer, so here are the vocal entries of four competing versions – all recorded in 1943, when the song was newly-published. Each is very fine, and while I also consider six more recordings, I don’t think that any of them are serious rivals to the 1943 versions.
The Leading Contenders
The first recording was by the orchestra of Francisco Canaro, with singer, Carlos Roldán, recorded on 26 May 1943. The arrangement is straightforward, well-played and the recording is decent. However, the string writing sounds rather too much like the style of the De Angelis orchestra for my liking.
Next in the studio was Aníbal Troilo with singer, Alberto Marino, and the recording was made on 30 June 1943. Marino is probably the best singer of the four and the orchestral playing is matchless.
Juan D’Arienzo recorded the song on 23 November 1943 with singer Héctor Mauré. The piano part, more than anything, tells us that the orchestra is D’Arienzo, but this is far from the rhythmic, driven, sound of the late 1930s.
A few days later, on 1 December 1943, it was the turn of Osvaldo Fresedo with singer, Oscar Serpa. It would be a mistake to think of this a lightweight performance. There is some beautifully shaded playing from members of the orchestra and Serpa’s vocal contribution is notable.
Hard on the heels of the four 1943 recordings is this one by the orchestra of Rodolfo Biagi with singer, Carlos Acuña, from April 1944. I can’t get on with it: arch-rival, D’Arienzo surely had the measure of the song. Carlos Acuña seems to be trying to get to the end as quickly as possible, while Biagi sounds completely outside his comfort zone. (D’Arienzo was out of his comfort zone with Héctor Mauré, but he managed better than this).
Troilo returned to the song in 1952 with singer, Jorge Casal. Troilo had switched record company from Victor to TK, and the sound is pretty dreadful for 1952. The arrangement is substantially the same as the Marino recording of nine years before, but if a master like Troilo feels he has something new to say about a previously recorded song, then it must be worth hearing. In the end, Casal can’t match Marino, and there’s no escaping the poor sound. Even playing it with other Casal recordings of the 1950s would be problematic: Troilo was just adopting a significantly new style (and one which most people think puts his music just beyond the mainstream of tango dance music of the Golden Age), and Uno was just before the switch. Most of the other Casal recordings belong in the new phase, and they are not obvious partners.
Carlos Acuña recorded the song, again, in 1957, under the direction of Uno’s composer, Mariano Mores. This time we hear the short orchestral introduction as well as the singer’s entry. Often, a composer’s own recording has to be considered to be definitive, but this just makes me laugh: what was he thinking? Acuña doesn’t help by singing under the note.
Armando Pontier also recorded the song in 1957 with Julio Sosa, but this is not a dance arrangement – the Golden Age was over. On its own terms, it is very fine until the entry of Sosa. Sadly, his voice is processed with so much added reverberation that it just sounds silly. Here is the greater part of the introduction, leading into Sosa’s entry.
Pontier made another recording of Uno in 1968 with Roberto Goyeneche, generally considered to be the finest tango singer of his generation. It too is concert music, but on its own terms much more successful than the earlier recording with Sosa. It is also the longest of any of the recordings, coming in at 4:10.
The last version I’ve considered is also the latest recording. Osvaldo Pugliese recorded the song with singer, Abel Córdoba, in 1976. Again, this is in concert style. The orchestra arrangement sounds more like a Pugliese ‘greatest hits’ compilation, while Córdoba sings along. It is full of Pugliese cliches and treats the song in a very free and rhapsodic way. You’ll either love it or hate it. I tend to the latter view, but it’s worth hearing, but perhaps not more than once …
Comparing the 1943 Arrangements
The song has a very unusual structure. Discepolo’s lyric has three verses, but all of the arrangements set just the first two. That is unusual, in itself, as typically in a 1940s dance arrangement, the thematic material is played right through orchestrally before the singer enters to deliver the first verse of the lyric. We usually don’t hear the second verse at all, because the orchestra once more takes up the themes. The singer returns with a final verse or chorus to wrap up the arrangement and that’s it.
These arrangements all begin with an orchestral introduction (although Canaro’s is abridged), but from the first entry of the singer, two complete verses of the lyric are sung and at the conclusion of the second verse, the song ends (although Canaro offers a brief repeat).
The musical phrasing is very unusual, too. Usually, we expect to hear two contrasting sections: you can refer to them as A or B, or perhaps as verse and chorus. They are normally each of sixteen bars’ duration (4 + 4 + 4 + 4), and the whole song can be written out as a thirty-two bar piano score (16 + 16), printed on two sides of paper. This song is much longer, and the sections are of irregular length. The first section (A) is of twenty-two bars, grouped 4 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 4 + 3, and the second section (B) is of twenty-eight bars, grouped 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4.
Canaro’s introduction seems simple. He gives us just the first eight bars of section A and then the whole of section B. One surprise, is that the introduction is played in a completely different key from any of the other versions. The song is notated in D (although the melody is very chromatic), but Canaro plays the whole introduction in G. Initially, I assumed that this was to suit the vocal range of Roldán (a baritone), as the other singers were tenors – but no, right at the end of the introduction, Canaro’s arrangement makes an audacious modulation (changing key), and Roldán enters on exactly the same A as all the others. Once you’ve noticed, it’s a striking effect, but you’d easily miss it. Here’s Canaro’s introduction, ending with the entry of the singer:
The piano plays the eight bars of section A, accompanied by pizzicato (plucked) strings, and then a bandoneon solo introduces section B. At 1:09, this is the shortest of the introductions.
Troilo gives us the whole of sections A & B. The first section is 44s, so the whole introduction lasts 1:41: almost half the duration of the song. The arrangement (made by Astor Piazzolla) is much more sophisticated than Canaro’s. Troilo’s orchestra always created a unique sound: it sounds much bigger than it was. Its range of dynamics seems greater than anyone else (except perhaps Pugliese) could achieve – and he preferred the sound engineers to place their microphones slightly further from the instruments than his rivals. The recording technology of the day was stretched to the limits of what could be captured, but this is a magnificent sound – with Marino on top form, and a string section with a nearly full orchestral complement of violins I & II, cello & bass. It’s worth considering that this introduction is so complete and satisfying, that if there had been no singer, at all, no one would have complained. As it is, the delivery of Marino lifts the song to a special level, magnificently supported by the whole orchestra (and they are singing too: the Troilo trademark sound). Just wow.
D’Arienzo’s introduction plays exactly the same musical material as Troilo’s and is comparable in duration at 1:37. The arrangement lacks the subtlety of Troilo’s, and the piano (in particular) drives the performance in a way that doesn’t sit quite right with the material – but goodness, this is very unlike the D’Arienzo of the 1935-39 orchestra. There is light and shade in the playing, and section B begins with a lovely bandoneon solo. Mauré had a strong effect on the orchestra’s sound but Mauré only enters right at the very end of this introduction. The lyrical elements (and they are there in abundance) are produced by D’Arienzo and his regular players. Great stuff – but for me, anyway, while this is not in Troilo’s league (but then, I’d say that of D’Arienzo, full stop), it is perhaps the greatest recording of the D’Arienzo/Mauré partnership.
Once again, Fresedo presents the whole of sections A & B in his introduction, which also lasts 1:37. You might be forgiven for expecting something very typically sugary, even lightweight, from Fresedo – at least, in comparison with the others – but no, the arrangement is within the bounds of good taste (always a risk, with Fresedo from the 1940s onwards), and there is playing of great sensitivity and beauty, particularly from the piano.
So that just leaves section B. Each orchestra has already played through all of the thematic material, and it is the turn of the singer to present the second verse of the lyric, with the orchestra in a supporting role.
Roldán, for Canaro, continues to do a good job, but the arrangement sounds too cheerful, even jaunty – missing the mark. Roldán gives us the second verse, and then there is an orchestral interlude, taken from the middle of the verse, with Roldán returning with a repeat the end of the last lines – and that’s it. Ultimately, the performance doesn’t quite convince me.
Troilo’s arrangement has Marino sing straight through section B just once – there are no orchestral interludes or coda. We have been given all of the thematic material twice though: once orchestrally, and now, vocally. All is in perfect balance and it requires nothing more.
Like Troilo, D’Arienzo takes section B straight through. The sound is out of balance, though, favouring Salamanca’s rather strident piano playing over Mauré’s rather understated delivery. I don’t feel able to set it aside, but this isn’t a version I turn to very often.
Fresedo also plays section B straight through, without repeats. Serpa makes a beautiful sound, but I’m not sure he quite gets under the skin of the lyric. The orchestral arrangement, relying heavily on the piano’s role, complements the singer, but this doesn’t carry the depth of Troilo’s interpretation with Marino.
Troilo’s version with Marino is my preferred choice: it has a depth and quality that the others can’t match. It’s a great song, but everyone still wants to hear the upbeat 1941 Troilo instead, either instrumentally, or with Fiorentino.
D’Arienzo’s version with Mauré would be my second choice. There are not many D’Arienzo/Mauré songs widely available in decent fidelity (and there are several transfers of Uno doing the rounds that are transferred far too fast, and which sound rather silly*). I have a soft spot for the Fresedo version. It doesn’t plumb the depths, but isn’t lightweight, either. I can take or leave the Canaro, but I’m not really a fan of Canaro from the 1940s onwards, generally.
*I did a quick check on downloadable versions of the D’Arienzo recording. Only a couple are at anything like the right speed/pitch (my library version comes in at 3:17 tuned to A = 440 Hz). This one managed to fit into 2:59 and needed slowing down by no less than 9.5% to get to concert pitch. It still sounded awful, too. I have heard this song played at this speed too often, too.