Notes and Editorial Reviews
"The Latin sound and the Latin rhythm are somehow embedded not just in me but in everybody from my part of the world: it’s such a popular style of music that everyone relates to it in one way or another. A lot of composers have been influenced by it.” Gabriela Montero
Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, celebrated equally for her interpretations of classical repertoire and for her extraordinary improvisations, devotes an album exclusively to works by Latin American composers. In another adventurous departure from the traditional recorded recital programme, she has selected 20 short works by six composers complemented by Alberto Ginastera's Piano Sonata No.1 and five improvisations on Latin themes by Montero herself.
At the centre of the disc is the powerful Ginastera sonata. If the short, sparkling dance-and-song-based miniatures and the improvisations can be considered the “accompagnements,” the “meat” of the disc is the powerful Ginastera sonata. “I have been playing it a lot in the last few years,” says the Caracas-born artist. “I actually learned it while I was studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Hamish Milne but it has been with me most of my life; it is music that has great significance for me because, of course, I am Latin.”
The four-movement Sonata No.1 was composed in 1952 and is generally considered to be Alberto Ginastera’s masterwork for the piano, demanding incredible virtuosity. “The Ginastera sonata is a very enigmatic and at times mysterious and violent piece, very animalistic,” says Montero. “In that respect it’s a different sound on the recording.” The sonata makes enormous demands of the performer and uses to the full the rhythmical and tonal possibilities of the instrument.
“The other repertoire on the disc is lively and song-orientated.” Montero has chosen works by the composers Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963) from Cuba, Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) from Brazil, Antonío Estéves (1916-88), Teresa Carreño (1853-1917) and Moisés Moleiro (1904-79) from Venezuela and two of the American Preludes Op. 12 by Alberto Ginastera (1916-83) from Argentina “For me this is music that is so alive that it transcends the written score. When you approach it and you learn it and play it, you have to let go of all the pre-established notions of what is right and what is wrong. You really have to dance with it.”
From Ernesto Lecuona, a prolific composer and popular pianist who wrote 11 film scores for Hollywood studios in the 1930s and 40s, there are three movements, including Malagueña, from his most important piano work Andalucía (Suite española), as well as five separate short works; from Ernesto Nazareth, of whom Villa-Lobos said that he was “a true incarnation of the soul of musical Brazil,” there are four of his more than 300 short works for the piano, many with funny titles. One of them, Odeon, is probably his best-known and recalls the cinema in Rio where he accompanied silent films; from Antonio Estéves, who mixed elements from European masters with popular and nationalist Latin themes, there is a selection from his 17 Piezas infantiles; from the beautiful, temperamental pianist Teresa Carreño there is a little waltz, Mi Teresita, dedicated to her daughter; in addition to the Sonata by Alberto Ginastera, Montero performs two short pieces: the Pastorale and the Danza criolla. Montero concludes her album with a favourite encore by Moisés Moleiro, Joropo, the joropo being a typical, exuberant Venezuelan dance.
R E V I E W:
Solatino is a collection of South American piano music played by Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero. The CD is generous with 78.10 minutes of music over 29 tracks from 7 composers including Ms. Montero's improvisations.
The first selection includes five tracks of music by Ernesto Lecuona, a Cuban composer noted for his film scores. The pieces have a transportive quality with lively and fun episodes such as 'Carnival Procession' ('La Comparsa') and 'Y la negra bailaba' ('...and the Negro woman danced!') standing out. Track No. 5, ('Why do you go?'), sounds like a zarzuela song, displaying the vocal quality of the playing.
Gabriela Montero's first improvisation 'Sonando Contigo' also enjoys this vocal quality - showing off her musicality and phrasing - while harking back to Victorian-era songs and arias.
The tracks 7-9 display a more formal side of Lecuona's output. No. 7, 'Gitanerias' , is in the sort of 'International' Spanish style enjoyed by Lalo's 'Symphonie espagnole'. The music is quite pretty but perhaps a tad empty. 'Malaguena' (Track 8) seemed especially 'visual' to me - one can imagine this as the soundtrack to a film about vibrant South American life. Track 9, 'Cordoba', enjoys a colourful and varied rhythm, more relaxed than 7 or 8. I feel there is a beautiful authentic Latin colour to this track - like hearing Alfredo Kraus in zarzuela. The cool piano tone resembles the bright, clear quality of the voices and a sensibility which can be quick and passionate but also pensive.
At times Montero’s improvisations out-live their welcome - I feel this about track 10, 'Texturas de la Gran Sabana' - in a way that the short-sharp bursts of emotion elsewhere do not.
However, the next track (11), the first in a group by Antonio Estevez, is hauntingly beautiful. The tune seems to resemble so many Negro spirituals - one can imagine Paul Robeson singing to this fine melody. The haunting accents at the end are played with a gentle softness; Montero’s cool tone allows the music to shine. The rhythms of dancing and singing seem to be evident in every bar of these pieces and although I don't imagine these tunes will be familiar to many classical fans they will soon become favourites. The tempo quickens after 'Angelito negro', and the exciting 'Ancestro 2' leads us to the fierce 'Toccatina' which feels like a huge burst of energy following the ebb and flow in tracks 12 and 13.
The smiling dance rhythms of 'A la Argentina' are enjoyable and it is probably the finest of Montero's improvisations in terms of atmosphere. The tone she creates is warmer here than elsewhere on the disc with a more subdued colour towards the end. Her timing is spot-on with tension being controlled without flagging or indeed blaring. What could, in lesser hands, have been dull is here fresh and intriguing. She enjoys the blatant sounds of 'Danza criolla' by Ginastera, never skimping on the drama. The attacks are clean and focussed. The shock of the last touch of the keyboard is well judged for maximum effect.
All these tracks have been leading up to the 'Piano Sonata 1' from Alberto Ginastera. It is fascinating to hear this music played with so much precision and bold confidence. The results are as tuneful as anything by Bernstein or Cole Porter. The engineers seem to have been very successful at capturing the tension of a live performance. From the slow, measured start of 'Adagio molto appassionato' (Track 20) the swing and intelligence are mesmerising. The eerie quiet of the middle section leading to the 'Ruvido ed ostinato' part (Track 21) makes the final climax feel very powerful. The piano is well recorded in clear and warm sound - contradictory qualities I imagine it must be difficult to reconcile.
Tracks 23-26 are tunes by Ernesto Nazareth, a Brazilian with a large output of piano music. The light and shade in 'Carioca' (Track 26) shows Montero at her best.
The lightning fast 'Joropo' is a nice entry as it is, according to the essay in the booklet, an encore special of this passionate artist – a fitting end to this recital.
If there is a hint of 'sameness' listening to these selections I suggest that is unavoidable. It is however never long until there is a novel turn of phrase or some other detail to savour.
This collection is certainly a fine introduction to piano music from this part of the world. Professionally and beautifully played throughout it is often passionate, intelligent and fun.
-- David Bennett, MusicWeb International