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Venezuelan expatriate and pianist; Gabriela Montero applies muscle, emotion, and wonderful improv skills to Russian program / Portland Press Herald

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It is only natural that musicians use their own experience as a template for broader commentary on social issues and the world around them – assuming, of course, that they are willing to air their views publicly. Gabriela Montero, an expatriate Venezuelan pianist, has long been outspoken, in interviews and on Twitter, about human rights abuses in her homeland, which she has described as a narco-kleptocracy and a failed state.

Though early-20th-century Russian composers fleeing the tyranny of the Soviet state were the main focus of "Westward" – the program Montero played at Hannaford Hall in a Portland Ovations concert on Saturday afternoon – her own sense of displacement from Venezuela was not far beneath the surface.

Montero is a powerful player, and the Russian works she offered – Prokofiev's "Sarcasms" (Op. 17) and Sonata No. 2 (Op. 14), Stravinsky's Sonata (1924) and Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2 (Op. 36) – drew on her ability to put speed and volume at the service of thorny and sometimes dense music. All four works were given muscular, emotionally forceful readings, and where there was anger in the music – or even where anger could merely be deduced – Montero brought it forth, sharpening edges rather than trying to prettify them.

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