Monday, 23 September 2019

From Latin-America with love: Gabriela Montero plays her own first piano concerto

Gabriela Montero, Maurice Ravel - Orchid Classics
Gabriela Montero Piano Concerto No. 1, 'Latin' concerto, Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in G major; Gabriela Montero, the Orchestra of the Americas, Carlos Miguel Prieto; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 September 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Montero's own concerto weaves the melodies and rhythms of Latin-America with more Western classical influences, and is paired with Ravel's concerto full of jazz and Spanish rhythms.

The pianist Gabriela Montera is very much a child of our times, born in Venezuala, she and her family moved to the USA when she was 8 and in her early 20s she arrived at the Royal Academy of Music. In her article in the booklet of her latest CD she describes herself as 'a globalized, Latin-American woman raised on a diet of European classical music with multiple circumstantial side-dishes of Pan-American folklore'.

Gabriela Montero's new CD on Orchid Classics contains Montero's Piano Concerto No. 1, 'Latin' concerto and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major, performed with the Orchestra of the Americas conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto.

Montero has always included improvisation in her live performances, creating complex musical pieces based on themes suggested by audience members or other sources. But she is also developing a striking repertoire of her own composed pieces for piano and ensemble. Her previous work for piano and orchestra, Ex Patria, (2015) was very much a polemical work about the state of Venezuala today, whilst Babel for piano and strings (2018) uses music as a metaphor for an artist trying to communicate injustice in a frantic 21st century world, creating a vivid picture of an artist trying to convey urgent political messages in a world which wants only to talk, and never to listen.

By contrast the concerto is rather more traditional in form, being in three movements fast-slow-fast, and on the surface rather more purely celebratory. Montero weaves a host of Latin-American rhythms into the music, creating a remarkable synthesis in the manner of someone like George Gerswhin, in fact it is Gershwin whose music springs to mind at first when listening to the opening movement. This is a mambo, rather than something more traditional Western classical, whilst the final movement is marked Allegro venezolano, and it uses the Pajarillo, a Venezualan traditional dance, as one of its influences.

But this is not some sort of cod folk-loric piece, pretending to an authenticity which is not true. Montero does not disguise her influences and alongside the Latin-American melodies and rhythms (this latter very important) we have Gershwin, Rachmaninov (particularly in the slow movement) and a host of others, all woven together deftly into a striking form. This is a big piece, and Montero seems to easily write large-scale movements, her opening movement lasts nearly 12 minutes and the slow movement is almost as long, meaning the concerto is just shy of 30 minutes long, and it certainly holds the attention.

The music is full of striking turns of phrase and rhythms, and Montero writes engagingly for orchestra as well so the the Orchestra of the Americas has a fine time exploring the rhythms and colours of her music. Montero recorded Pro Patria with the orchestra on Orchid Classics in 2015 [available from Amazon]. Formed in 2002, the orchestra is composed of young professionals and senior students (aged under 30) from across the Americas.

Do not expect advanced 21st century styles and harmonies, Montero's music is very much a product of her upbringing and training, and thus combines the Latin-American with music from the Western classical canon. But that said, this is more than surface entertainment here and the music has depth and complexity, and the Latin-American rhythms and styles encompass both lightness and dark, with each movement have more disturbing moments.

The work is paired with Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, his only concertante work for piano two hands. It was written between 1929 and 1931 and highly influenced by the sounds of jazz which Ravel had first encountered in 1928 on a concert tour of the USA. But it isn't just jazz, the opening movement includes references to the the Basque and Spanish music which Ravel heard in his youth. Montero plays the opening movement with controlled vigour and firm tone, effortlessly bringing out the striking rhythms of Ravel's music, yet also allowing the slower sections to mellow beautifully. The slow movement, with its apparently effortless long-breathed melody, is played with a nice tenderness, and then the final movement whistles past with dazzling and effortless virtuosity. There are, I think, darker layers to this concerto which are not brought out here but with its combination of influences, the work makes a very apt pairing to Montero's own concerto.

The recording was made live in Chile in 2017, and certainly does not betray very much of the audience presence whilst the very live-ness brings a vivid sense of presence to the performance.



Gabriela Montero (born 1970) - Piano Concerto No. 1, 'Latin Concerto'
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) - Piano Concerto in G major
Gabriela Montero (piano)
The Orchestra of the Americas
Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor)
Recorded live at Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile, July 2017
Orchid Classics ORC100104 1CD [51.47]
Support Planet Hugill by buying this from Amazon.

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