Ernesto LECUONA (1896-1963) La comparsa (Carnival Procession) [1.58]; ...Y la negra bailaba! (...And the Negro woman danced!) [2.06]; A la Antigua [2.14]; Impromptu [1.33]; Por que te vas? (Why do you go?) [2.44]
Gabriela MONTERO (b.1970) Sonando Contigo (Improvisation) [3.08]; A la Argentina (Improvisation) [2.57]; Sin Aire (Improvisation) [3.46]; Mi Venezuela Llora (Improvisation) [2.53]
Antonio ESTEVEZ (1916-1988) 17 Piezas infantiles: No.12 Angelito negro [1.32]; No. 2 Ancestro 1 [1.22]; Ancestro 2 [1.12]; No.17 Toccatina [0.57]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983) American Preludes: No. 10 Pastorale [2.26]; No. 3 Danza criolla [1.29]; Piano Sonata No1 Op.22 [14:27]
Ernesto NAZARETH (1863-1934) Odeon (Tango Brasileiro) [2.12]; Brejeiro (Tango Brasileiro) [1.47]; Fon-fon (Toot-Toot) [2.15]; Carioca [4.12]
Teresa CARREÑO (1853-1917) Kleiner Walzer (Mi Teresita) [4.27]
Moises MOLEIRO (1904-1979) Joropo [3.12]
Gabriela Montero (piano)
rec. 5-7 February 2010, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 64114422 [78.10]

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 pensive.

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.

David Bennett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

A fine introduction to piano music from this part of the world.