Rachmaninov • Montero

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COMPOSERS: Montero,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Orchid Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov • Montero
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2, Ex Patria, Op. 1 (In Memoriam); Improvisations
PERFORMER: Gabriela Montero (piano); YOA Orchestra of the Americas/ Carlos Miguel Prieto
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 100047

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Self-exiled from Venezuela, Gabriela Montero’s Op. 1 expresses her grief and fury at what has befallen that land. Ex Patria is dedicated to the 20,000-plus of her compatriots murdered each year since 2011, and is a tone poem purporting to reflect the country’s civic collapse and moral decay; it is, she says, ‘a portrayal of a country barely recognisable from that of my youth’. In effect it’s an elegiac fantasia for piano and orchestra, very Russian in style, with echoes of Rachmaninov and Shostakovich; it hangs organically together, and has no need to be read as programme music.

It’s appropriately preceded by a work from pianism’s most celebrated self-exile. Montero’s playing in Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto has a zest which reminds us why Martha Argerich originally took her under her wing, but it’s marred by sound-recording which insistently thrusts the piano into close-up, leaving Carlos Miguel Prieto and the YOA Orchestra of the Americas in the background. This problem is particularly acute at the start, where the beauty of the opening orchestral theme is obscured by the intrusive sound of the piano’s passagework – yet that should only be the accompaniment.

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The best part of this CD consists of three improvisations – and, having once had the chance to challenge her improvisatory claims, I can believe that these perfectly structured performances really were spontaneous. The first is a gracefully Bachian exploration, the second a Rachmaninov-style rumination, and the third a Chopinesque cabaret number. Here is the full Montero, revelling in her fine technique and unstoppable creative flow. Michael Church