Gabriela Montero returned to Wigmore Hall in an eagerly anticipated programme consisting of popular standards from the classical and romantic repertoire. The popular Venezuelan pianist, regarded particularly for her noteworthy improvisational skills, delivered an evening of music which places great demands upon the performer for varying reasons, be it the light, elegant touch of Mozart, the introspective lyricism of Schumann or the fierce intensity of Beethoven.

Gabriela Montero
© Shelley Mosman

Montero commenced the evening’s entertainment with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major, K330. Employing little pedalling, she created a warm, airy sound which in turn complemented the reverberation in this intimate venue. This is music which requires a particularly delicate touch, embellished with deft ornamentation throughout and Montero judged the sense of ease and simplicity which is characteristic of the composer to deliver a nicely shaped reading. In the more serious second movement, she crafted the space to allow a sense of inner questioning with an apparent quest for answers ultimately being resolved with child-like simplicity.

The jaunty, up-tempo finale had a sprightly energy to it with plenty of busy passagework in the right hand. Impressive control was displayed throughout despite the obvious technical challenges; cascading arpeggios were speedily but tidily handled as Montero guided the work toward a satisfying C major conclusion.

Despite being written approximately twenty years after Mozart’s work, Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata soundes significantly more modern in its’ musical language. Montero attacked the grumbling low notes of the opening with relish, finding an effective dynamic contrast between piano and forte to great dramatic effect. She chose a tempo which was perhaps a little too brisk, but never lost sight of ensuring the melody shone through.

Taking adequate time to linger at the appropriate moments, there was also a sense of frenzied attack at others. Beethoven was writing to push boundaries, testing the ever-increasing range of newer instruments. Compared to the preceding work on tonight’s programme, this felt like a whole new world of sound. Restless innovation, exploration of new directions and transpositions of existing themes into new keys was a staple of the first movement.

A slow, deliberate and languorous opening to the second posed many questions. Incidentally, this was a substitute slow movement – Beethoven ultimately decided to re-work his original theme into the Andante favori. Montero carefully worked her way toward the hymn-like purity of the final movement. Displaying impressive technical dexterity, this playing was assertive, forceful and heavily rhythmical. Concluding the sonata with an appropriately crashing series of chords, it was tempting to wonder how Montero would interpret Schumann’s Kreisleriana.

Ultimately, this would prove to be the only (minor) disappointment of the evening. Where her Mozart had contained grace and clarity, her Beethoven adeptly controlled emotional range, her Schumann was disappointingly rushed in places, lacking detail and somewhat disjointed. Rarely for Montero, there were a number of misplaced notes across the suite and her playing style somehow failed to “click” with this particular work.

Montero returned to engage the audience in a participatory challenge. Of particular note was her own unique reworking of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm – as she herself pointed out “it’s amazing what you can do with just four notes!” Indeed it was. In terms of improvisational skills, Montero is up there with the very best and the warm reception she received left me in no doubt her of her enduring popularity here in London.