Snubbed! -or, Why I am not a critic 3

Tonight to hear Gabriela Montero in recital for the SSO at Angel Place.

I should have known things would go badly when, having fed the parking meter to take it to 9.58, I resolved to start the whole process again 2 minutes later so that the same money would take me up to the necessary 10 pm (after which parking is free).  The machine returned all my money except for the vital first $2 coin.  This is not the first time something like this has happened to me, which of course made it doubly annoying.  When will I ever learn?

Once at Angel Place, I still had time up my sleeve. I squeezed into the pre-concert talk, by chance next to a regular commenter on this blog, only to leave early as Dr Robert Curry ran on closer and closer to the start of the concert.  One thing: his musical examples were simply TOO LOUD – a piano doesn’t sound that loud even if you are sitting at the keyboard (though perhaps Gabriela Montero sometimes does).  I also realised that I am too impatient to sit through warmed-up Charles Rosen.  His The Romantic Generation sits ready to hand in the smallest room of my house and is therefore (in randomly selected passages) quite familiar enough already.

Obviously, I wasn’t in a good mood.

So I’m glad I’m not a critic, because that frees me from the obligation to be judicious.

The program was:

BACH trans. BUSONI
Chaconne
(from Partita No.2 in D minor for solo violin)
CHOPIN
Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op.61*
DEBUSSY
L’Isle joyeuse*
GINASTERA
Piano Sonata No.1
MONTERO
Improvisations on themes suggested by the audience and of her own

[*Originally announced: Bach/Siloti, Violin Concerto in A minor and Chopin, Nocturne in F minor Op 55 no 1]

In the circumstances, which I admit may have clouded my judgement, I didn’t really warm to the Bach/Busoni Chaconne (too loud, too fast, I could have done with a few more grandly rolled chords).  The Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie seemed heavy handed, and Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse failed to enchant me (for example, too much accompaniment and not enough of the left hand crossed-hand tune in the middle).

I tried to put myself in a better humour over interval, and the Ginastera was much better.  As I say, this could all have been to do with me rather than Gabriela Montero’s playing.

Then came the much-touted improvisations.

GM declared the rules. To propose a theme for improvisation you had to sing it to her. The first theme suggested was the theme from “The Godfather.” The improvisation (in A minor) started much like her first effort on Saturday – quasi (very quasi) fugal and baroque, interspersed with episodes.

GM called for another. Valorously true to my foreshadowed intention, I suggested the chorus to the Beatles’ “All you need is love.”

Possibly Montero is too young to know the song. To be fair, she may not even have thought I was singing, because it is all on one note (in truth there is a microtone down on “need” but I didn’t articulate this) and I make no great claims for my delivery. She just said “That’s true,” and returned to soliciting the theme that she really wanted.

Apparently, someone with whom Montero had conversed beforehand had asked if she could do “Love me tender” (aka “Aura Lee”). Montero wanted them to sing it to her because she affected (by now I was getting suspicious) not to remember it. Quite frankly, it is that sort of contrivance which gives improvisation on themes a bad name. Why not have rigged mind-reading while you are about it? The Lisztian effort which followed was the most interesting improvisation of the evening – as well it might have been.

The next theme was La Marseillaise, which I like to think was at least subliminally prompted by “All you need is love” to which it forms part of the introduction. By now things French were all the rage, and we had Offenbach’s Cancan, starting with a little Alberti and then wandering in every direction. A certain degree of jazz or ragtime raised a few laughs. Maybe I was still smarting from the snub, but to me this was about as funny as a joke at the opera, which is to say not very.

GM then dealt with “Three Blind Mice” (nominated in writing before the concert) which was for my money the other interesting effort (I wonder why?). She finished with an improvisation on “Summertime.” Here GM allowed herself rather more departure from the literal tune, though at the expense of the real point of this song, which is surely the ostinato in the accompaniment.

Hell hath no fury like a theme-proposer scorned. I’ve heard organists improvise and they do it much better, as did Robert Levin. Now I know why the practice has died out in piano recitals.

Everybody else apparently loved it.

Driving home I got a flat tyre and had to change it.

One Response to “Snubbed! -or, Why I am not a critic 3”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Well she got one thing right – “That’s true”.

    On our night, we had one ‘suggestion’ from the concertmaster (which sounded a bit like the Simpson’s theme) and one from a woman (natural born singer as it turned out) who, if she’d been sitting any closer, would have been under the pedals.

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