Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gabriela Montero: Worth a listen

In an earlier post I mentioned that I wasn't familiar with the pianist and clarinetist who played with Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman at the inauguration. I missed pianist Gabriela Montero, to whom I am listening as I write this. I got a couple of her CDs in the bonanza I scored when Register classical music critic Tim Mangan had to move to a new desk and decided to offload some of the CD review copies he's gotten over the last several years. And I had listened and enjoyed before the inauguration, but her name hadn't registered strongly enough for me to remember it.

The CD playing now is "Bach and Beyond," on which she takes Bach pieces and uses them as the basis for improvisations. Bach is especially adapted to being played in different styles, as demonstrated by the Swingle Singers' conversion of seemingly staid pieces into swing/jazz, or the early Moog synthesizer albums by Walter (later Wendy) Carlos in "Switched-on Bach." In the liner notes Gabriela writes that she had improvised from early on, but didn't let on to many in classical world. But she was encouraged later on, by Martha Argerich, and I'm pleased. She does surprising wonders with "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Many think improvisation is unique to jazz, but it's pretty certain that players in the Baroque period improvised fairly regularly, and expected to do so, especially in cadenzas in concertos. Gabriela occasionally sounds jazzy, and she employs harmonies a Baroque player probably wouldn't have, but it's mostly classical-sounding. I think Bach would have been pleased.

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