It is music to let your hair down to, without discarding your brain along the way.
Charlotte Gardner 2008
In Baroque, a collection of improvisations on Baroque themes, Gabriela Montero combines musicality and technical skill with soul. Although impossible to pigeonhole, the overriding style is classical, but there are hints of pop and jazz along the way. If you missed her previous album (Bach and Beyond) and alarm bells are ringing at this description, I can only plead with you to not write this off as a 'crossover' album by yet another pretty face with a slick marketing team. Montero was a respected concert pianist for years before the great Martha Argerich persuaded her to stop hiding her improvisatory gifts through fear of not being taken seriously. Thank goodness Montero took the older pianist's advice, because otherwise the world would have been a duller place.
At cursory glance, the programme reads like a bog standard Top Baroque Themes list, but then you hear what she has done with them. Her powers of invention are truly remarkable, especially when you consider that all these tracks were improvised on the spot and recorded live. The theme of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus may have been used as a starting point, but in Montero's hands it has gone calypso party style; you feel as if you should be listening to it whilst propping up some Latino bar with a suitably kitsch cocktail in hand. Not very holy, but jolly good fun. Vivaldi's Winter is turned into a shimmering, Debussy-esque snowscape. Importantly, at no point do these feel like formless musical ramblings. On the contrary, they feel as texturally rich, technically demanding and tightly structured as any conventionally composed work.
This album has that elusive X factor that only exists when the performer’s love of the music is so palpable as it crackles around the room that you feel as though you could touch it if you tried hard enough. It is music to let your hair down to, without discarding your brain along the way.