New Classical Tracks: A Latin Storybook

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
February 8, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — Open a storybook and the adventure begins. That's exactly what happens on Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero's new recording, "Solatino." Montero says it's a storybook of Latin sounds, emotions and personal statements, beginning with the title on the front cover which appears in bright yellow, blue and red, the colors of the Venezuelan flag. Inside this musical storybook we travel through four different South American countries with six different composers.

Ernesto Lecuona dominated Cuban musical life for almost 50 years composing in almost every genre including eleven film scores. His best-known piano piece is the, "Malaguena," found in his "Suite Espanola." "This is more than piano!" Maurice Ravel reportedly exclaimed when he first heard this piece. Numerous pop, jazz and marching band arrangements of this song have cropped up over the years. The composer himself recorded a solo piano version in 1955, and he provided Spanish lyrics. This tantalizing piece is packed with powerful emotion making it perfect for all types of settings, including women's figure skating. Kristi Yamaguchi earned an Olympic gold medal in 1992 skating to Lecuona's "Malaguena."

Alberto Ginastera's challenging Piano Sonata No. 1 is the centerpiece of this recording. It was commissioned in 1952 by the Pittsburgh International and Contemporary Music Festival. Throughout its four movements, this work portrays the Argentine composer's visit to the United States. In this work, the composer strays from his nationalistic style. Sometimes he uses polytonal techniques, writing in more than one key simultaneously. The mysterious atmosphere of the second movement, marked "Presto misterioso," comes from various cross-accents and Latin-American dance rhythms.

Teresa Carreno was the Martha Argerich of her day. Her beauty and her fiery temperament along with her powerful technique earned her the nickname, 'The Valkyrie of the Piano.' Carreno's charming "Kleiner Waltzer" ("Little Waltz") is dedicated to her daughter by the second of her four husbands. Her daughter, sometimes known as Teresita, was also a well-known pianist in her own right.

One way in which Gabriela Montero is truly able to express herself is through improvisation. During her concerts Gabriela often invites the audience to suggest themes upon which she can improvise. They ask for everything from Mozart to "Star Wars." "When improvising," she explains, "I connect to my audience in a completely unique way and they connect with me." For years she kept this aspect of her playing secret until Martha Argerich heard Montero improvising one day. It was Argerich who encouraged Montero to make this part of her concert presentations. On her new release, "Solatino," Montero features five improvisations Latin themes she has composed. "Mi Venezuela Llora" is a tender piece expressing her sentiments about her homeland.

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero takes the listener on an imaginative journey in this adventurous collection of works exclusively by Latin American composers. Open the pages of this musical storybook, and enjoy the ride.

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