“Not very long ago I heard an outstanding pianist from Romania: Florian… he plays Mozart extremely beautifully!”
Martha Argerich in an interview for Radio România Muzical, September 2017
“Arriving next on the platform to join the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 came British-Romanian pianist, Florian Mitrea whose performance of this famous work was a mixture of phenomenal technique and ravishing musical intelligence.
From the memorable opening chords which strike into our very souls, to the emotionally overwhelming conclusion, Florian Mitrea sustained his focus, addressing all the nuances of sunshine and shade that make up the volcanic musical personality inhabiting this concerto.
It was a triumph of pianism to reveal so much often obscured by the familiarity that goes with frequency of performance, and in various intervals and passages involving the piano alone it was possible, in Mitrea’s interpretative emphases, to discern elements of Tchaikovsky’s own Romantic heritage, Schumann’s Symphonic Studies perhaps in the first movement, or Chopin’s Études and Preludes in the second.
The CCSO’s accompaniment was superbly managed by Robert Hodge, especially in the finale’s memorable tune where a potential competition for dominance was replaced by a complementary restraint.
The enraptured audience was rewarded with an encore before the orchestra embarked on Symphonic Dances, the last composition of Rachmaninov, originally intended to be choreographed as a ballet work, but remaining until the present day an orchestral piece in three movements.”
John Gilroy, review of City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra concert, 11th February 2018, Cambridge Independent.
“The vibrant sounds and asymmetrical rhythms of Bartok’s Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm were despatched with muscular verve and nimble articulation. Hearing Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz in the same programme as the Bulgarian Dances reminded us of Liszt’s eastern European heritage, and here this work was less a devilishly tricky crowd-pleasing virtuosic romp and more a fitting companion piece to Bartok’s dances which opened the concert. Equally, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 5 was given a noble grandeur, imbued with a sweeping romanticism but also deeply connected to the composer’s heritage.”
Review of concert at St Martins-in-the-Fields, London, 30 January 2018, by The Cross-Eyed Pianist.
“… With a virtuosic opening filled with velocity, he played with a subtle rubato and firm touch. Taking on a stiller, more dream-like musical persona for the second adagio movement, Mitrea fully explored the romantic nuances of the music, with phenomenal precision throughout.”
Miranda Heggie, review of Beethoven Piano Concerto no 5 in E-flat major “Emperor”, SIPC 2017 with RSNO & Thomas Sondergard at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, The Herald.
“Mitrea eröffnete sein Programm mit der Es-Dur-Sonate von Joseph Haydn, der wohl einzigen Haydn-Sonate, die auch von professionellen Pianisten häufig gespielt wird. Das Werk ist 1794 entstanden, und Mitrea verortete es nicht im achtzehnten Jahrhundert, sondern im heraufdämmernden neunzehnten. Mit farbigem Anschlag und differenzierter Pedaltechnik arbeitete er die Ausdrucksnuancen der Sonate heraus, scheute sich auch nicht, die dynamischen Gegensätze deutlich, fast überdeutlich herauszuheben. Das war alles andere als ein brav-harmloser “Papa Haydn”, sondern Musik, die weit in die Zukunft weist.”
“Mitrea opened his programme with the E major Sonata by Joseph Haydn, probably the only Haydn Sonata which is often performed by professional pianists. The work was written in 1794 and Mitrea played it not as an eighteenth century piece but as music belonging to the dawn of the nineteenth century. With a coloured attack and a differentiated pedal technique he worked out the expressive nuances of the sonata, and he did not hesitate to emphasize the dynamic opposites clearly, almost too clearly. This was anything but well-behaved “Papa Haydn”, this was music which points far into the future.”
“Nach der Pause dann die a-Moll-Sonate von Schubert. Und siehe da: Hier vertraute Mitrea der Tragik, die in der Musik selbst angelegt ist, und verzichtete darauf, noch einen draufzusetzen. Er ließ einfach die Musik für sich selbst sprechen – und erreichte gerade so die größte Wirkung. Wunderbar das liedhafte Andante mit dem “Geistermotiv”, bestechend auch die nervöse Unruhe des Finales. Die Sonate war klaviertechnisch sicher der einfachste Teil des Programms; dennoch nahm Mitrea sie nicht auf die leichte Schulter.”
“After the interval came Schubert’s A Minor Sonata. Mitrea kept faith with the sense of tragedy which the music itself contains and refrained from adding anything to it. He simply let the music speak for itself – and achieved the greatest effect. The lyrical Andante with the “sigh motif” was wonderful, and the nervous restlessness of the finale was also captivating. The Sonata was certainly the easiest part of the programme; yet Mitrea did not take it lightly.”
“Man merkte gleich, dass ihm diese Musik besonders lag. Hier konnte der Künstler seine stupende Virtuosität ausspielen, denn auch wenn die sechste Sonate technisch nicht so überfrachtet ist wie die siebte, erfordert doch auch sie enormes Können. Die Sehnsucht nach einer besseren Welt, die Bedrohung durch den heraufziehenden Zweiten Weltkrieg – Prokofjew hat alles in seiner Musik angelegt, und Mitrea wusste es umzusetzen und den Zuhörern zu vermitteln. Zweifellos war die Prokofjew-Sonate der Höhepunkt des Abends. Großer, berechtigter Applaus.”
“It was immediately obvious that this music <Prokofiev sixth sonata> was special to him. Here the artist could play out his stupendous virtuosity, because although the sixth sonata is technically not as overloaded as the seventh, it also requires enormous skill. The longing for a better world, the threat of the impending Second World War – Prokofiev had created everything in his music, and Mitrea knew how to bring it all out and convey it to the listeners. Undoubtedly the Prokofiev sonata was the highlight of the evening. There was huge and justified applause.”
Szyszka Von Reinhard, review of recital in Icking, February 2017, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Florian’s first solo CD, Following the river: music along the Danube, was released on 5th January 2018 on the Acousence Classics label (ACO-CD 13317). Following the river is available worldwide from JPC, Amazon or iTunes, and Spotify.
Radio România Muzical is broadcasting a full review on 16, 17 and 18 April (three 25 minute programmes featuring extracts from different tracks each day with comments). If you understand Romanian, you can listen or read a transcript by following this link. A translation of the transcript will be posted here soon.
The selection of pieces by Bartok, Schubert and Liszt and Romanian composers Sigismund Toduta, Paul Constantinescu and Radu Paladi all call on the folk heritage and music of eastern Europe in works of rich textures, dynamic rhythms, piquant harmonies and simple yet haunting melodies. Schubert’s Hungarian Melody is given a more earthy treatment, with a strong focus on its offbeat rhythms which turns it from a salon piece into a true folk melody. The disc introduces listeners to the varied and intriguing piano music of lesser-known composers Toduta, Constantinescu and Paladi, complemented by well-known works by Liszt. This is a very personal and meaningful selection of music, elegantly presented and masterfully played, with a deep appreciation of and affinity with the folk heritage which lies at the heart of all this music. Highly recommended.
Review by The Cross-Eyed Pianist piano blog.
I very much liked Florian’s theme for Following the River: Music along the Danube. You will probably have seen images of the Danube used to illustrate the waltz An der schönen, blauen Donau at the New Year’s Concerts in Vienna. This Romanian pianist, however, chooses to focus on the muddy, murky waters between Baziaș and the Black Sea, rather than on Strauss’s blue and waltzing Danube. This is a very personal and nostalgic voyage charted by two influential figures from a school of composition which today is mostly forgotten and neglected: Sigismund Toduță and Paul Constantinescu. In other words, this is a journey which leads back home to Romania, a country with which Florian Mitrea is still in love, even though it is a country where there are no record labels for him and others like him, and no concern for the future of its young musicians. Florian leads his listeners on an intimate journey, which turns out to be, as he points out himself, as tumultuous and troubled as the river, the way people have described it in countless folk songs: like life itself. Released by Acousence Classics on 5th January 2018, Florian Mitrea’s debut album is a struggle between reason and nostalgia, but the winner is the music, particularly Romanian music. It is also a gamble which has paid off for a pianist we will be hearing a lot about.
The disc opens with Béla Bartók’s Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from Mikrokosmos Sz. 107: a strange and yet familiar-sounding music which sets the scene deep within the primeval hinterland of the Danube. The culture from which these Dances arise is ancient, far more ancient than our modern ears can make out. The poly-modal harmonies represent the ethnic melting-pot created by the different peoples living on the banks of the Danube. The asymmetrical combinations of binary and ternary metres, and the modal sound of these gem-like miniatures, acquire a feeling of mystical chanting in this pianist’s interpretation: a spell-binding simplicity in the calm tempos, and a frenetic energy in the fast ones. The modal flavour of the Dances pulsates with strong rhythms under his fingers, and in the background there is the music of the Delta, the way Florian remembers it from his childhood.
What follows is a take on one of the most original Romanian star-songs, Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, the theme that Sigismund Toduță used for his Passacaglia: twelve variations on a Romanian Christmas carol composed in 1941. Toduță (born in Simeria in 1908; died in Cluj in 1991) is an unjustly forgotten composer who had a huge passion for both the Baroque and for his national folklore. He often suffered under merciless communist censorship (the religious subtitle was removed in the 1957 edition of the Passacaglia). This piece is a homage to Bach built on an endearing theme drawn from popular and Byzantine roots, and Florian Mitrea’s interpretation is remarkable: the tenderness of the theme in unison – the star-song itself collected and published by ethnomusicologist George Breazul in 1935, and harmonised for choir by composer Gheorghe Cucu – is followed by a carefully nuanced development through the twelve stanzas. Mitrea’s performance is exceptional: he plays with passion and fervour. The mysterious, beginning-of-time-like character is gradually developed, and the pianist employs mature virtuosity in managing the descending melody’s contrapuntal textures (typical of Romanian folk music), its chromatic harmony, and the difficult giusto-syllabic rhythm. He leads the music to its apotheosis in the final variation, to which he conveys a majestic quality, blending bell-like sounds with the resonance of a church organ.
The beguiling Hungarian Melody, in B minor D 817, was composed by Franz Schubert in 1824, following short summer stays at Zselis, where he taught Count Esterhazy’s daughters, and where he was able to listen to local folksongs. It is basically a salon ‘musical moment’, whose theme the composer also used for his Divertisment á la hongroise – a potential connection to Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, published forty five years afterwards. But Florian Mitrea acts here almost like a poet: his interpretation of this piece has much more than nostalgia, it has longing – I do not know how Hungarians translate this word (Romanian dor – ‘longing’), but this pianist’s heart-trembling performance brings this quasi-banal piece to life and turns it into a real gem of fragile and delicate sensibility. I have not experienced ‘playing with longing’ (Romanian a cânta cu dor) for a very long time!
Variations on a Romanian folksong, by Paul Constantinescu (another Romanian composer who was passionate about Romanian folklore and Byzantine music, and who is completely neglected today), is an extremely pleasant surprise on this disc. This performance is about more than just virtuosity and technical skill, things that Florian Mitrea clearly commands. It is also about the art to transform silence into intensity. This delicate theme is taken from Uite neica trece dealul, a folksong about a young girl worrying about her departing lover. The extremely beguiling lyricism of the tune becomes in turn worry, anguish, hope, and nostalgia in this performance of tender beauty. This pianist knows how to express these moods simply and without fuss, regardless of the complexity of each variation and of the unexpected harmonic modulations. ‘Exquisite’, as they say in Florian’s adoptive country.
With the next piece we stay with the same composer, but the musical landscape is radically changed. The Dobrogean Dance (Toccata) is the fully-fledged rhythmical apotheosis of the Geampara (a Romanian folkdance form), Constantinescu’s homage to the Dionysian folklore of Dobrogea. Florian Mitrea plays with fire – yes, this would be the best way to describe it – and the Japanese concert grand mutates into a cimbalom burning with Florian’s astonishing virtuosity. Suggestions of a moderate ring-dance, rag-time chords, and a lyrical parlando intermezzo come in quick succession before the rhythmically-uneven geamparale return with even more fire. This is the moment when Florian’s technical virtuosity shines through. No wonder that the piece was included on his debut album. It was also the compulsory piece for the first edition of the George Enescu International Piano Competition.
Franz Liszt’s fifth Hungarian Rhapsody, titled Héroïde-élégiaque, explores a completely different aspect of folklore. The young pianist clearly understands the material used by the great Hungarian composer. Liszt is a master of thematic transformations. He can turn anything, from gipsy themes to mournful songs, into an epic narrative. Florian’s performance is very intimate, without becoming mawkish, which is often the danger with this kind of music. In his version, this piece sounds like a cinematic unfolding of painful memories brought together in a refined Lisztian lamento.
The next piece on the album is another important cornerstone on this disc which allows Florian to showcase his wide-ranging ability: the Suite of Romanian songs and dances, the second piece by Toduță on this album, is undoubtedly one of his most complex compositions, despite each movement’s minimal length. The young pianist is a fine interpreter of the rural world of Romanian folklore. He is able to give full expression to this remarkable synthesis of the human condition: from childhood’s playful innocence and lullabies, to the quotation of a Romanian Christmas carol, to a drinking song and to a folk dance. Florian Mitrea approaches each movement with a deep personal involvement. At the heart of this music is a genuine folk tradition which merges with the personal style of the Romanian composer. Florian himself has said that this cycle of dances could easily be compared to Bartok’s famous Romanian Dances. I am delighted to see that Sigismund Toduță has finally found such a fervent advocate.
Radu Paladi’s Rondo a capriccio brings back bravura and virtuosity, without leaving folk inspiration behind, but also incorporates moments of an almost impressionist lyricism. Florian is obviously captivated by the shimmering verve of this prolific composer born in Storojineț in 1927: a student of Florica Musicescu, and a successful concert pianist, traits which are all discernible in his compositions. Florian lets himself go faultlessly in the virtuosic runs and cascades, but is also able suddenly to plumb the emotional depths in the graceful lyricism of the calmer episodes. The music itself is enchanting, and Florian’s joy in performing it is contagious. After all, even though this music suggests Debussy, Mendelssohn, or even Prokofiev, Florian is undoubtedly a great Mozart pianist!
The last tracks of the CD are dedicated, again, to Sigismund Toduță – Chorale and Toccata. They belong to the late stage of his output. Displaying a more modern musical language and a deeper power of expression, they are a perfect conclusion to this disc. The Chorale, a deeply religious treatment of the Byzantine litany ‘God, have mercy’, acquires hieratic qualities in Florian’s performance. He projects impetuously sustained chords, reminiscent of the resonance of a Catholic church organ, over the solemn monody of the Byzantine theme. The pianist has understood the ecumenical character of Toduță’s music. This composer lived in Transylvania, an area where Orthodox, Roman and Greek-Catholic Christians have lived together for hundreds of years, and where this rich and diverse spiritual life was heavily constrained by the communist regime. The Toccata is a wonderful metaphor symbolising an eclectic spiritual unity in which a Baroque genre of sparkling virtuosity is entangled with the Orthodox semantron. Florian Mitrea’s percussive staccato touch is flawless in the introduction. It gradually develops different colours and tonal shading in the chordal development, and eventually turns into an agonising cry sustained by an astonishing velocity. I do not understand why Florian omitted the Prelude, since the composer probably composed this work as a three movement piece, but rather than this being a complaint, it is more of a technical question which is not worth exploring here.
To conclude, Following the river, Florian Mitrea’s debut album, is a success, and a clear win for Romanian music. And beyond the personal bet, this album holds out huge promise for the future of Romanian performing art, even if it will bear fruit away from this country.
Translated from the on-line review of the CD by Cătălin Sava, which can be read in the original Romanian text along with an interview with Florian on the Republica site.