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Pianist Gabriela Martinez sparkles fleetingly at Glenn Gould Studio

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinez brought refinement, elegance and a penchant for lyrical expression to her Toronto recital début at the Glenn Gould Studio on Friday night.

From every traditional measure, this was a fine occasion: Martinez has technique to burn, she brings a clear sense of where she wants each piece of music to go, and she knows how to bring a wide range of expression to the instrument without ever making her interpretations come across as forced or contrived.

She is, in other words, a natural. The icing on the cake is that she is nice to look at and moves with an unstudied grace.

Martinez also brought along some less-known repertoire, including the Canadian premiere of a piece written for her by Belgian composer-conductor Dirk Brossé.

So why, for all my respect and appreciation for what Martinez brought to us, did this recital leave me unmoved?

There isn’t anything she could have played better.

Sergei Rachmaninov was disingenuous in giving some of his finger-twisters the anodyne title of Moment Musical. The music needs to sound easy and spontaneous, but takes many hours of practice and sweat to get there. Somehow, Martinez gave two of theMoments Musicaux — Nos 1 & 4 — a particularly translucent interpretation.

Dirk Brossé’s Nocturne No. 1, a sweet doughnut with a zesty jelly filling, was impressive. Samuel Barber’s final piano piece, theBallade, had the ideal nonchalant attitude about it.

And Martinez had a lot of light-fingered fun with Beethoven’s Op. 33 Bagatelles.

This brought us to intermission, at which point I was beginning to wonder why I wasn’t connecting with this fine artist.

It occurred to me that the bit-of-this and bit-of-that approach to programming, especially when it comes to more introspective or lighter music, can end up feeling insubstantial.

The evening’s second half confirmed my suspicions.

Here came three more pieces, each prepared with the care of perfectly baked meringue: Franz Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No. 104,White Lies for Lomax by contemporary American composer Mason Bates and the fiercely difficult showpiece B-flat minorVariations by Karol Szymanowski.

More Liszt, more Szymanowski, more Barber, Beethoven or Rachmaninov might have given the evening critical mass. At 65 minutes of music, the programme was already pretty short.

Do I need to feel like I’ve had to work for my musical enjoyment as a listener? I hope that’s not the case.

But I guess when I’m in the presence of such a fine artist, I expect to be moved, not just entertained. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be placing the burden of that expectation on Gabriela Martinez.

John Terauds, Musical Toronto
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