Young Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez, appearing in the Rockport Chamber Music Festival yesterday afternoon, left no doubt about the art of the piano yet raised more than a few questions about reality and imagination. The promising pianist bared plenty of power placed alongside an enviable delicateness of touch; it was her hunt for individuality and the infinitesimal that eventually overwhelmed. Fortunately, the allure of speed, to which so many of today’s up-and-coming pianists succumb, did not factor into her debut at the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
Martinez led off with two of Rachmaninoff’s Moment Musicaux, excellent choices as they are all too infrequently programmed. Spun out in long sinuous lines counterpointing short gasps of accompaniment, the opening of the Andantino from Op. 16 is by no means the easiest to pull off musically. Should it dream? Should it “long for”? There was some of both suggested in Martinez’s approach. Later came a section marked Con Moto which she took to gracefully, relaying into its music the sunlight seen through that dramatic wall of glass behind the piano.
The fourth Moment, Presto, surprised with a transparency that never yielded to its fast and furious contortions. Martinez shaped the whizzing left hand into clear bursts. Her right hand announced the fanfare-like flares with great clarity. I cannot remember hearing a more exciting, more intelligent performance than this. Might one think of her concept of Op. 6 No. 4 as having leaned toward an etude rather than an impassioned moment?
And another round of applause certainly is due to Martinez for also playing an under-appreciated composer. How often have we heard from Polish composer Karol Szymanowski these days? Variations in B-flat minor or “Wariacje b-moll” has as its theme one that first broods in dark harmonies, then opens up to some sunlight before resuming its first mood. Here, Martinez’s eye for detail uncovered from the score the composer’s intricate and personal voicing of the theme. The arching theme itself, though, became disguised, the details becoming the major object of interest.
Slotted in between these more serious poetical statements were the lighter Beethoven Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33. Cute, sort of, they were. Martinez, consumed with artful pianism, overplayed the obvious in these sometimes humorous, sometimes playful, oftentimes crazy, piano miniatures. In the Scherzo, her impetuous moves brought attention to her own playing. The Minore section within the Scherzo became art, somewhat artificial, or borrowed sounding, but brought me back to Beethoven’s writing. The third Bagatelle is so memorable for its first four measures being in one key then suddenly restated in a remote key. Drawing us in with her soft, rounded touch in these measures, only to blast out the one bar in which Beethoven transitions and modulates his way back for a full repeat, did indeed raise questions.
Today, we fully recognize the role of the pianist as interpreter or re-creator. In this, my introduction to Gabriella Martinez, my attention was all too often redirected, she, or rather her playing, became the focus. This clearly revealed an advanced technician with power to boot and a pianist in unwavering pursuit of a new or individual voice of her own, evident in Schumann’s Carnaval. Expressing the particular moods of these 21 pieces seemed not the intention of Martinez. A rush-and-gush reality superseded imagination; parts were greater than the sum of the whole. Her encore was Arthur Rubenstein’s Romance.
If you have not been to the Shalin Liu Performance Center, you will certainly want to go, just to experience a most unusual and attractive space.