Gig review: Mr McFall’s Chamber, Edinburgh

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With empanadas in the bar and candles flickering on the intimate tables that had replaced the usual Queen’s Hall seating, we could just about have been in a sultry Buenos Aires nightclub – well, maybe.

Mr McFall’s Chamber - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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Even if that would have been a stretch of the imagination, there was just the right atmosphere for Mr McFall’s Chamber’s vivid account of María de Buenos Aires, the strange, surreal “operita” by the king of Argentinian nuevo tango, Astor Piazzolla.

More a passion play than a true opera, it tells of María’s journey to the big city, of her corruption and death, and then of her ghost giving birth to another María in a weird reimagining of the Christian nativity – all in a string of rich, sensual tango numbers that the enlarged Mr McFall’s Chamber ensemble pulled off with precision and care.

Chilean singer Valentina Montoya Martínez shone as a charismatic María, but ironically it was tenor Nicholas Mulroy who was the real star, in a succession of characters from travelling storyteller to psychiatrist delivered with suave commitment. Juanjo Lopez Vidal intoned solemnly in the speaking role of the Duende, a spirit narrator, and bandoneón player, and musical director Victor Villena often stole the show with his thrillingly theatrical squeezing and stretching of his instrument.

Balance occasionally went a bit awry with the instrumental ensemble, and the players sometimes seemed to smooth over some of Piazzolla’s striking contrasts. But it was an ambitious and convincing performance, and striking visuals of contemporary Buenos Aires by film-maker Geraldine Comte provided a bold backdrop.