Review: Gabriela Montero; Piano; Aldeburgh Festival; Britten Studio; June 9

Gabriela Montero has already established something of a reputation and she performed at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2009. In very different (but equally fine) surroundings she delighted her audience with a first half of Chopin and Brahms followed by a second half of improvisations.

She began with Chopin’s first Ballade, immediately arresting as the bare octaves unwound. The quaver runs were impeccably even and the main tune floated and then soared majestically. At some of the most strenuous passages the volume did seem too loud for the hall but there was no denying the authority of the performance.

The fourth Ballade was equally well played, a gently rocking opening finally exploding in a dazzling cascade of semiquavers.

Between these two Brahms’ late pieces op 118 showed the composer’s mastery of the instrument and of the art of concision. From the brusque authority of number one, through the eloquent simplicity of the second to the sturdy vigour of the Ballade, Montero completely captured the essence of these miniature masterpieces. Her beautifully warm tone and perfect balance in the central section of the A major Intermezzo will remain a cherished memory.

For the second half Gabriela invited members of the audience to suggest themes or tunes for her to improvise on. The first two were the Toreador’s Song and Summertime and the results were electrifying. It is one thing to hear someone play a piece composed by someone else – and very good it often is. Yet it is quite different when one does not know what is coming next and, when the improvisation really works, the sense of excitement and the tension is tangible. The storms of applause for these and the further improvisations on Gone with the Wind and God Save the Queen spoke volumes for the audience’s enthusiasm.

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Note to Festival Director – this lady is something special – get her back!

Gareth Jones

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