A word of explanation. The normal format for head notes on this
site is an opus number, key, and date of composition. But this
is not such a disc and EMI itself studiously refrains from going
into such detail - and that’s because Gabriela Montero is that
most rare of things, a genuine classical improviser. She has her
own website and you can set her a suitable challenge and, if you’re
lucky, she might improvise on your selected piece.
That’s what she
does here. The theme obviously, as the album’s title indicates,
is a self-contained one. And so Montero set forth in No1 Studio,
Abbey Road, London, in June and July 2007 to compose newly
minted, unique takes on a succession of popular baroque favourites.
I know she admires Bill Evans. So perhaps
one way of approaching what she does is to bear in mind the
limpid, interior and refined expression of which Evans was
a master. But there’s also a brazen rhythmically volatile
Venezuelan heart beating in Montero’s chest cavity, so one
should also be aware of the Jelly Roll Morton in her soul.
Morton took classical themes, of course, and ragged them,
jazzed them, syncopated them and brought them to rude Sportin’
House life. What Montero does is rather different though there
She opens with
the jaunty Canarios but soon encounters Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,
all four of whish she essays throughout the fifty or so minutes
of her recital – Summer and Winter are tagged together and
last two minutes! Her Pachelbel has mid nineteenth century
romantic affiliations whilst the Handel Sarabande builds to
a big, sonorous climax. The Hallelujah chorus is a jokey
thing bristling with Ragtime and Mortonesque Spanish Tinge.
Handel’s Largo meanwhile is lushly romantic. The Albinoni
Adagio is a big improvisation and the one that drifts the
farthest, harmonically speaking, from its home port. There
are also hints of a composer I suspect Montero likes, Rachmaninoff,
in her powerful and rich chording. There are more explicitly
jazz based elements – rhythmically at least – in Bach’s Prelude.
And when it comes to Winter from the Four Seasons we find
the melody emerging from the improvised reverie. The only
piece that seems to me too over-extended is the Handel Hornpipe.
But it does at least make an immediate contrast to the breezy
Scarlatti sonata that follows it with its South American admixtures.
And Montero-watchers can note with pleasure her own composition
Baroque and Me which offers a kind of prescription
for what she does – with a strong Bachian ethos, tight trills,
ornaments and harmonic explorations.
unusual fare then from Montero; true there are some longeurs
but if you don’t strive (and occasionally falter) you won’t
create such generally zesty and sensitive reshapings.