Orquestra Típica Fernández Fierro

Lennox Theatre, January 19

Orquesta res
Photo: Jamie Williams.

Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro is to tango what Nigel Kennedy is to classical music. The 13 members dress in jeans or shorts, tee-shirts or singlets, and sport assorted shades, dreadlocks or baseball caps. Their leader and double bassist, Yuri Venturín, has an amplifier and speakers to warm the heart of a hard-rock bass guitarist, and, yes, they were louder than your average tango orchestra.

But none of this was about idle show or compromising the music. It just reflected an attitude that helps them appeal to a new generation, at least in their native Argentina. By so doing they are actually protecting and revitalising the tradition more than another polite, polished band that may hold negligible appeal for younger listeners.

They emphasised the music’s dynamic contrasts, and thereby magnified its drama. They also had a secret weapon. The deep-voiced Julieta Laso joined for half the numbers, singing with an intensity that was almost confronting. Alas someone’s idea of a rock-show lighting aesthetic left her mostly – frustratingly – in the dark. Instead the lights preferred to flash, fade to blackout or shine upon the violins. Her voice was as dark as her non-illumination, and it simmered with sexual provocation and threat. She could be as feisty as a martini with no vermouth, or could spit out the words out like incantations fit to bewitch a saint. All the time she excreted truth like beads of sweat.

One aspect of the band that was entirely traditional was the line-up, with four bandoneons, four violins, viola, cello, bass and piano alongside the amazing Laso. They were brilliantly rehearsed, played with no sheet-music and routinely executed the material with the precision and cohesion of a top-shelf chamber orchestra. Among the minuscule amount of improvising violinist Bruno Giuntini was allowed to shine sublimely.

To hear this band the night after the Sun Ra Arkestra was to witness one of the strongest musical doubles in Sydney Festival history.