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
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.
see also review by Jonathan