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Dip Your Ears, No. 256 (Gabriela Montero’s Latin Concerto)

available at Amazon
M.Ravel / G.Montero, Piano Concertos
Gabriela Montero / Carlos Miguel Prieto / The Orchestra of the Americas
Orchid Classics

After dipping her toes into the composing waters with her tone-poem for piano and orchestra Ex Patria op.1, Gabriela Montero has now written a full scale piano concerto. While Ex Patria was an emotional plea about the plight of Venezuela, the concerto is intended as a call to consider a more realistic, somber view of Latin America. She wants the world to understand that, while South America is a continent that’s known for its rhythms, flavors, for its spirit, for its humor, and for having a spirit that somehow is able to overcome or transcend the difficulties and extremes of our daily experience, there’s also a darker side to it: Shadows that threaten the countries’ and people’s development and prosperity.

You can question whether any of that specifically comes across in concert or on disc, without reading her liner notes or hearing her speak about it. In fact, that’s almost certain not to be the case. But the idea that in the rhythms, melodies and the vibrancy of the work is embedded a message about the darker aspects of South American nature does seem to come through as a tempering quality. There is a specifically “Latin” cliché in classical music. Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, Oslvado Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, or Ariel Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra and his Misa Criolla are only some examples that are full of it. The separating line between tackiness and vibrancy is fairly thin. Fall down just an inch on the wrong side and a composition will sound as though Speedy Gonzales had got a hold of the Maracas.

Montero’s bitter-sweet piece avoids that trap. Anyone familiar with South American music might notice the El pajarillo (a quintessentially Venzuelan type of dance modelled after the “Joropo llanero”). But the music does not exude a happy-go-lucky dancing vibe. The mambo of the eponymous first movement has a dark undercurrent running through it: A bit of Varese; a bit of urban ‘mechanique’. The fun is measured. The air is rather mature, the structure simple but touching, and the content never banal. It’s an extremely likable work that doesn’t dumb it down much.

The Ravel concerto, by all means given a good performance, aided and abetted by Carlos Miguel Prieto and The Orchestra of the Americas, is a fine companion piece. A courageous one, too, because the very greatness of it might have been considered a risk lest it overshadow the ‘Latin’ Concerto or even expose it as something much lesser. It goes to the great credit of the former that it doesn’t do that. But let’s face it: that’s not the work most people would buy this disc for. At least not when they have Zimerman/Boulez or any other Reference Quality recording on their shelves already.


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