Though it’s not going to hit the streets until September 12, Gabriela Montero’s new recital called Bach & Beyond is already starting to make waves. It’s the second EMI recording for this new keyboard star, hailed by the legendary Martha Argerich, as well as leading American critics like the New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini and the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein, as having not only the technical chops and the personal charisma but the musical imagination it takes to attract attention in the busy world of classical pianists.
It must be said up front that this new release is closer to clazzical than classical, because the 36-year old Venezuelan beauty takes the music of Bach as a point of departure in 12 meandering, seemingly free improvisations. There are occasional jazz-like riffs and modulations with tears in their eyes, like the beginning of Air in G, and industrious modern jazz-like motor energy runaways, like her take on the last movement of the Italian Concerto. But mostly, it’s a series of original responses, blending a wide range of 20th century musical currents, to J.S. Bach, with some strikingly gorgeous moments that stand out, like the opening prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier, concluding with a brilliantly unpredictable run at the famous Toccata in D minor, which starts out like Stokowski and ends up like, well, Montero.
One other thing that makes this release stand out from the normal run of jazzed-up Bach is the extraordinarily beautiful sound of Montero recorded in the Number One Studio at Abbey Road in London. It is rich and clear, and luminescent, and I can well imagine it being used to select a very expensive new set of speakers. If you can hear Montero on her five-city Bach and Beyond concert tour in September, when she will be playing at mostly unconventional venues (Sept. 13, Washington, D.C., at the Corcoran Gallery; Sept. 14, Chicago at the Black Orchid; Sept. 18, San Francisco at the Plush Lounge; Sept. 19, Los Angeles at the Silent Movie Theatre; and Sept. 21, New York at Joe’s Pub). Don’t miss her.
– Laurence Vittes