Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gabriela Montero – Brahms Piano Concerto No 1

I am constantly astonished by Gabriela Montero's musical mind. It's not just the fertility of her ideas as she improvises, but the instant realisation of these ideas as complex piano music. All happening in real time. 

(I used to sneer at the idea of real time. What kind of time is unreal time? Then I developed a teenager, so I can answer that question. Time spent by teenagers in the bathroom is unreal time.)

The only danger of her powerful genius at extemporisation is that it has tended to overshadow her stature as an interpreter. So I am pleased to be able to redress the balance just a little, with an upload of the first Brahms concerto. 

It is followed, you will be glad to know, by a piece of Montero.

I've had a funny relationship with Brahms. The first funny thing is that Brahms has been unaware of it. In my twenties I became a passionate Brahmsian (having spent my teenage years playing Mozart endlessly). But as I got older I began to find Brahms self-conscious of his role as a Great Composer, and, frankly, self-pitying in an entirely unlikeable way. 

I think a turning point arrived when I read an anecdote told by one of the Schumanns' children. Brahms used to visit their house and entertain the children (and terrify everyone else) by doing handstands on the upstairs bannisters. Now there, suddenly, is a vision of a muscular daredevil that is at odds with the stuffy grumpy bollox we thought we knew. And I realised that for all its faults, the earlier works have a genuine sense of muscular energy and vitality that are more than enough to make me forgive their excesses. 

Throughout all of this, the work I have never tired of is the first concerto. There is something deeply physically satisfying about the piano writing – those opening bars from the piano cause me instantly to forgive the bombast of the orchestral opening, and that lovely bucolic moment when the last movement turns to D major always makes me smile. 

I grew up on the Arrau/Giulini recording, in which Arrau's poetry constantly challenges Giulini's high-voltage conducting, right from the first bars of the piano entry, where Arrau seems to float timelessly. Montero lays her cards on the table here: there is a sense of improvisation, of exploring the possibilities of an idea, but with a sense that this is no mere meandering – she has a very clear idea of where the music is going.

I do find her tempo for the first movement sometimes too heavy-footed, especially those rather bombastic octaves that build up to climaxes, but her handling of the lyrical elements is warm and generous – think Katchen.

Enough. Download and listen to a player who matches the devilry of Brahms very well indeed! 

Gabriela Montero, NDR Philharmonic, Hannover, Eivind Gullberg Jensen
Brahms : Piano Concerto No 1
Encore : Montero
Studio Concert, NDR, Hannover, 13 Feb 2014

320kbs radio recording
Download from MediaFire
Download from Mega

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for Gabriela Montero. She is really stunning, a great pianist and improviser.
    Best regards,