Gabriela Montero's Solatino

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Let's face it, most people don't think of Latin America when they think of classical music. And neither do they envision even major composers from Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela or Argentina taking a seat alongside Beethoven and Brahms any time soon.

But a growing number of Latin American musicians seem determined to address this. Among them is the Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, whose latest recording offers inspired performances of 26 short, luminous works by seven Latin American composers. It’s our Album of the Week.

Born in Caracas in 1970, Montero emerged on the scene in the last decade with several engaging and at times quirky recital recordings and an international concert diary that included an appearance at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, playing alongside Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Anthony McGill.

This, her third solo album, cuts a swath through 100 years of Latin classical music and begins in the middle, in the mid-20th century, with Ernesto Lecuona, the so-called Gershwin of Cuba. Lecuona wrote 11 film scores in the 1930s and 40s, and that experience seems to inform the colorful and expressive style of the short piano works featured here. Chief among them is the mambo-tinged La comparsa and the gorgeous Malagueña .

At the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum is Alberto Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. 1, a bold and challenging exploration of Argentine rhythms, and featuring a rather modernist harmonic language, carefully bent and shaped by Montero. The delicate third movement and the final rondo of the fourth movement aptly demonstrated her commanding technical skills.

Other composers on the album mix the sounds of European masters (the French impressionists in particular) with elements drawn from Latin American nationalism and popular song. We hear this especially in excerpts from Piezas infantiles by the Argentine Antonio Estevez and five salon-style pieces by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth.

Finally, among Montero’s trademarks is a knack for improvisation. Once a fairly common skill among classical musicians (Mozart and Beethoven were both legendary improvisers), today it’s mostly gone from the classical ethos, as musicians became more concerned with fidelity to the score. This recording includes five short improvs, each infused with a supercharged Latin romanticism, the best being Mi Venezuela Llora.

Gabriela Montero
EMI Classics

Available at on 1/11/11 (pre order now)

Watch this clip of Montero playing Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. 1 and tell us what you think. Does Latin American classical music get short shrift?


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Comments [7]

Mladen Horvat from Venezuela

Antonio Estevez was the most important Venezuelan composer of the 20th century. He was not "argentine".

Aug. 24 2013 02:15 AM
Rosemary Vasquez from Bensonhurst, Bklyn NY

I just ordered the Montero's CD. I love the Latin Am. music. My 2nd Piano teacher was from Dominican Rep., Petiton was his name; he taught La Comparsa and La Comparsita and Malaguena. Her selections are happy and energetic. I'd love to find a piano teacher to help me along in this genre. When is she performing here?

Jan. 12 2011 12:07 PM
Paul Franco from New York, NY

I loved Gabriela's magical hands!

Jan. 08 2011 11:47 PM
Vera Zolberg from New York City

Perhaps there is insufficient attention paid to Latin American music, but has anyone actually counted? Some would say that there is a general paucity of living composers more generally. This was the view of Virgil Thompson, the American composer and for a considerable time the music critic of the NY Herald Tribune, who deplored American orchestral program for its neglect of anything but the "fifty famous" pieces. Similar complaints have been voiced about many other orchestras in the world. Those of us who enjoy the compositions of Villa Lobos, Golijov, Carlos Chavez, Ginastera, and numerous other creators are more than ready to hear more!

Jan. 06 2011 04:26 PM
Claire from NJ

Gabriela Montero is most definitely a powerhouse pianist! I’m very excited that she has showcased our Latin American composers and their classical compositions in her new CD because, let’s face it, it’s true that when people think of Latin America, the furthest thing from their minds is classical music.

This morning I was fortunate enough to hear Ms. Montero execute Ernesto Lecuona’s ¿Por qué te vas? I was enthralled by her mastery and ability to capture the Cuban flavor so typical of Lecuona’s compositions.

As a native Cuban, I feel that Lecuona is one of the greatest exponents of Cuban classical music since he was the first to raise Cuban music to classical status. However, I feel that he, as well as many other composers, does not get enough exposure in the music world. That’s why I want to say…BRAVO WQXR for choosing Solatino and its magnificent performer as the “Album of the Week” and for being in the forefront of perpetuating the legacy of all these great Latin American composers.

Jan. 04 2011 02:58 PM
Michael Meltzer

The above intro is a beautifully written piece, I wonder why it is not signed. I would take issue, though, with something in the last paragraph.
First, improvisation is being taught, it is absolutely a required skill for keyboard employment in the field of early music. One must read a continuo bass line and, from that and the main motifs, improvise a credible, relevant full accompainmnet on the harpsichord or portative organ.
Second, there's a personality issue. You can teach a student keyboard harmony, mastery of the scales and chords of twelve keys, even the skill of replicating at the keyboard things they pick up by ear.
But, you can not teach a student to improvise one single note if they are afraid to take a few chances and just do it! You can only enhance the skills of someone who is doing it already.
It's no surprise to find Keith Jarrett occasionally at the harpsichord. Jazz and baroque music have more in common than most people suspect.

Jan. 03 2011 01:09 AM
Michael Meltzer

In the 1940's and 50's, the Lecuona: Malaguena was expected of every pianist, as was the Chopin A-flat Polonaise. Then, saturation was reached, both pieces disappeared from current repertoire (As Yogi Berra said of a famous bistro, "It's so crowded nobody goes there anymore").
Then, the Chopin G-minor Ballade reigned supreme, everybody played it, now nobody plays it.
What goes around, comes around, and we welcome the ever-exciting "Malaguena," back again!

Jan. 03 2011 12:45 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.