Gabriela Montero and BSO Principals, Poole Lighthouse,

Montero:  A Piece for Ruth
Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No.2 Op. 36
Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57
Montero: Improvisations

Gabriela Montero, piano with Mark Derudder and Carol Paige, violins, Tom Beer, viola and Jesper Svedberg cello


“THERE are not many artists about whom it can be said that their talent borders on genius,” wrote one critic OF Gabriela Montero, the 49-year-old Venezuelan pian­ist who is this year’s BSO Artist in Residence.

After this richly rewarding recital, culminating in a demonstration of her incredible powers of improvisation, it would be hard to disagree.  Last autumn, Montero joined the orchestra in performances of her own piano concerto and one of Mozart’s.  In this recital she held the stage alone for two of the items on the programme, being joined for the other two by the principals of the BSO’s string sections.

The concert began with Montero’s own composition, A Piece for Ruth, a single movement seven minutes long for violin and piano.  The title of the composition refers to Ruth Palmer, one of Britain’s finest young violinists, who in 2006 was hit in London’s Fleet Street by a motorbike driven by the younger brother of Gabriela’s boyfriend. Ruth is now a good friend. The piece is tune­ful and immediately acc­es­sible, with four quite distinct but continuous sections including a cadenza for violin alone. It foregrounds the violin throughout, with the piano largely in an accompanying role, and Mark Derudder rose admirably to the occasion with a sweet-toned and convincing performance.

Montero then took the stage alone for a performance of Rachmaninov’s dramatic and intense 2nd Piano Sonata, written in 1913.  This was the year of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, but Rachman­in­ov’s musical language is not similarly revolutionary or modernist, using familiar sonata form to shape its passionate and unruly thematic material. Montero’s performance brought out the colour and variety of the piece, with an especially delicate and warm middle section sandwiched between the intensity of the outer movements.

After the interval Montero was joined by the principals of four of the BSO’s string sections in a performance of the Piano Quintet by Shosta­kovich, which was written in 1941. People new to this work will have found it unexpectedly gentle and genial, and the rapport between the five players was exceptional.  It was hard to believe that they hadn’t been playing together for years.

The last item in the programme showcased Mont­ero’s unique talents as an improviser. She calls on the audience for ideas for tunes to serve as the basis for an improvised piece, which, Montero said was unplanned and exists only in the moment it is played. The first suggestion was Doh a Deer from The Sound of Music, and Montero somehow seamlessly turned this into a Bach-like set of variations. The next request was The Way You Look Tonight. The romance suggested by the title prompted Montero to improvise sweepingly dense and lush chromatic sweeps reminiscent of Rachmaninov, before segueing into ragtime to conclude. The applause was thunderous and sustained, and Montero returned to generously give us a third improvisation, this time on a combination of the Can-Can and I Like to Be in America, which started like a portentous Beethoven slow movement and ended somewhere in South America.  I have literally never heard anything like it.  Genius.  You had to be there.


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