There is no doubt that Gabriela Montero is an extraordinary artist. She can also be a bit of a confusing artist, as at her solo recital for Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Tuesday night.
During her performance, divided evenly between published music and improvisation, Montero made a much more powerful, confident statement when freed from the shackles of interpretation. It was when she let her imagination and fingers have free rein over the keyboard that her musicianship glowed with the most brilliant colours and pulsed with the most energy.
Even Montero herself appeared to come out of her shell, growing in stature and animation on the bench.
It made me wonder if perhaps it isn’t time for this pianist to take a risk and present recitals made entirely of her own creations rather than reply on the compositions of others. But perhaps it would be hard to sell a traditional classical audience on this concept.
Montero has the combination of prodigious technique as well as a quicksilver imagination that can create remarkably sophisticated music on the fly. To see her in action is a revelation even for someone who has seen and heard her do this several times before.
Tuesday night’s audience supplied the melodies for Montero to improvise on, including “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Lara’s Theme.” She managed to weave something fresh and unexpected, yet still tinged with the familiar pianistic fireworks of Romantic and late-Romantic music.
Her interpreted music came from friends Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, but these pieces — Three Op. 117 Intermezzi by the former, the C Major Fantasie by the latter — didn’t possess the coherence of the improvised music.
Rather, the pianist approached this music as if it were springing from her fingers in the moment. Instead of a large-scale shape, Montero provided sharply contrasting detail and dynamics. But I kept wishing for a larger view of the music that would show a stronger act of interpretation.
But, then again, Montero is more of a creator than interpreter, and she clearly knows how to play to these strengths.