Like a visit from outer space

The Standard (Vienna)

By Daniel Ender

An unconventional piano recital by Gabriela Montero

Vienna - When the recording industry had not yet taken over the music scene, the art of improvisation blossomed as a natural part of music making - even and especially in the so-called classical music. Until well into Romanticism (and beyond) great composers were also gifted improvisers; piano virtuosos were able to extemporise off the cuff well into the 20th century.

This ability has disappeared among performers almost entirely. Therefore the piano recital by Gabriela Montero at the Vienna Konzerthaus was like a visit from outer space. First, however, the Venezuelan pianist immersed herself completely in the three interludes, Op 117 by Johannes Brahms - and then presented a massive version of Franz Liszt's B minor Sonata, played already like music that was invented that very moment.

Gruff and brooding in detail, with calm and overview of the architectural design Montero upheld an almost unbearable tension during the gigantic work and thereby laid, paradoxically, the foundation for the contrasting second half of the concert. Casually she then picked up the microphone to prepare the audience for the upcoming, entirely different, Latin-American piano pieces.

With the gloomy depths of Austro-German Romanticism those dance inspired pieces by the Cuban Ernesto Lecuona, the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth and the Venezuelan Moises Moleiro have little in common. Still they built a suitable bridge for the main attraction of the program that Montero is famous for: her improvisations on themes sung or named by the audience, which she can improvise on in the style of Bach or Beethoven just as well as Liszt, impressionism or varieties of early jazz.

She hid the theme of the Blue Danube Waltz in a stormy baroque attire; The Bare Necessities (Jungle Book) rose up from a more melancholic mood. With an intimate, free meditation this visit came to an end. (Daniel Ender, THE STANDARD, 18.04.2012)