Bela Bartók – Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from Mikrokosmos
Paul Constantinescu – Cântec

Paul Constantinescu – Dobrogean dance: Toccata
Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody No 5 in E minor
Franz Liszt – Mephisto – Waltz No 1

Florian Mitrea, piano

Tuesday 30th January 2018

St Martin’s in the Fields, an elegant neoclassical church in the heart of London, resonated to the colourful, earthy sounds and rhythms of Eastern Europe in Florian Mitrea’s lunchtime concert. In an interesting and contrasting programme he offered a “taster” of his debut disc ‘Following the River’ with works by Bela Bartok, Paul Constantinescu and Franz Liszt

Fresh from winning fourth prize in the inaugural International Music Competition in Harbin, China, Florian betrayed no sign of lingering jet lag (he flew back to London from China on Sunday) in an energetic and committed performance book-ended by dances by Bartok and Liszt. 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.

The middle of the programme was occupied by two works by Romanian composer Paul Constantinescu (1909-63). Cântec, a set of variations on a Romanian folksong, was infused with a bittersweet nostalgia, while Dobrogean dance: Toccata recalled the off-beat folk rhythms of Bartok in a work which combined glittering virtuosity with poignant lyricism. Both works were beautifully paced, sensitively shaped, and highly evocative.

These two works appear on Florian’s debut disc, Following the River, inspired by childhood memories of “hot summer nights spent on a boat in the middle of a channel, deep in the heart of the Danube Delta” (FM). The Danube, the longest river within today’s European union, flows through 10 countries and four capital cities – Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade – and carries with it stories, folklore, memories and more. In Following the River we find quite a different version of the river from “An der schönen blauen Donau”, by the Austrian Johann Strauss II, which celebrates the great river in Vienna; this is a far more personal evocation. 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 in 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

Following the river: Music along the Danube

Bela Bartok, Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from Mikrokosmos Sz. 107
Sigismund Toduţă, Twelve Variations on a Romanian Christmas Carol
Franz Schubert, Hungarian Melody D 817
Paul Constantinescu, Variations on a Romanian Folksong
Paul Constantinescu, Joc Dobrogean. Toccata (Dobrogean dance)
Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 ‘Héroïde-élégiaque’ in E minor
Sigismund Toduţă, Suite of Romanian Songs and Dances
Radu Paludi, Rondo a capriccio
Sigismund Toduţă, Chorale on ‘God, have mercy’ and Toccata

© and ℗ 2017 ACOUSENCE records (ACO-CD 13317)

Meet the Artist – Florian Mitrea



Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I suppose it was initially the fact that my father’s enjoyed playing a little jazz piano as a hobby, and as a toddler I couldn’t resist hitting the keys, rather too often for my Grandmother’s liking. It was this that meant I started having formal piano lessons, and it has grown from there. It was, however a long time until I thought that I might be able to play professionally. I think in the end it comes down to the fact that I love music and having the opportunity to share it, and there came a point where I just couldn’t conceive of doing anything else.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have benefited very early on in my life from wonderfully committed teachers who cared about my personal development as well as my musical one. They gave me a through technical grounding, but they also showed me that technique is about freeing yourself to be able to communicate musically.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think for any young pianist currently it is quite tough, there are so many exceptional musicians that it’s hard not to wonder sometimes whether you have something distinctive to bring. And balance is always something that’s hard to achieve – especially when navigating your early career. I hugely enjoy teaching and working with young musicians, and being able to share with them, but also take part in competitions, as well as performing. I have in the past struggled a great deal with nerves and perhaps for me that will be a lifetime process, but it is something that I have very actively worked on in the past few years, and am gradually overcoming.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I think the performances I am most proud of aren’t necessarily the ones in the most prestigious venues, but the ones where I feel a real connection with the audience. That can happen not just in a big concert hall, but sometimes when you play to children or people who don’t often attend classical music concerts, they aren’t constrained by learned behaviour. They experience music in a very immediate way. In terms of recordings, I have just been in the studio, recording my first CD project, in partnership with Kawai and German label Acousence, of pieces which are linked to folk music and the Danube – it was wonderful to have the opportunity to make the recording, and I am so excited for it to be released later in the year.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s really hard to choose a favourite, when so much depends on the occasion, the audience and the mood. I feel a particular affinity with Mozart: the phrases are so natural, and I think as far as one can argue that classical music is somehow universal, then Mozart is the embodiment of this. But I also love the richness of the great Romantic repertoire, the sheer inventiveness of Prokofiev, and of course nearly all pianists want to explore the depths of Beethoven’s piano writing.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I’m not yet in a position where I make all the choices! Often I get offered a concert with particular repertoire in mind, so that’s always an excellent justification for broadening my repertoire. Otherwise I try to create interesting programmes which have overarching themes, or celebrate a particular composer, and I try to balance familiar repertoire with other pieces which may be fresh to the audience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

As a pianist I am always going to be thrilled if a venue has a great piano, as pianists have to try and adapt themselves to the temperament and qualities of the piano they find, rather than being able to bring a familiar instrument with them. But I don’t think it’s the building that makes a concert. It’s the audience, so it doesn’t matter if it’s an ornate concert hall, although they are obviously wonderful, or a more alternative and intimate setting. I’ve never played outdoors as an adult, so that’s one I hope to try one day!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s so hard to choose but the Mozart concertos, some Liszt and Prokofiev would have to be included. I also enjoy listening to music I can’t play myself: Opera, symphonic repertoire and jazz being my favourites.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I believe there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found in the recordings of the old piano masters. I am personally most drawn to Gilels and Lipatti. The sincerity and depth of their performances is rarely matched. Also, we are very blessed to be able to experience live the performances of legendary musicians such as Argerich, Lupu and Barenboim. Away from the world of piano, my favourite musician is probably soprano Cecilia Bartoli. She sings so beautifully, and I find her art inspirational for my piano playing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was a small boy when Gerhard Oppitz came to give a recital in Bucharest. I remember it was all sold out, but I managed to squeeze in the auditorium thanks to the kind ticket lady who let me in. I sat on the fire-escape stairs, but I will never forget the impact his rendition of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations had on me. It was music-making beyond any rational understanding.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think that hard work and dedication can never be underestimated. But if you keep practicing and listening and being open to ideas you will always improve. Music is an art not a science, and so people will always have different ideas of what things should sound like, but this doesn’t have to be reductive. You have to be led by a desire to communicate, so educate yourself as broadly as you can, read literature, go to the theatre, as well as practise.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being on a remote island, with my wife and dogs, an amazing picnic, some wonderful recordings – and a boat to go back to the mainland on at the end of the day.

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Florian Mitrea’s early passion for the piano led him to a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In  2016 Florian was joint winner of the Verona International Piano Competition and was awarded second prize in the major biennial James Mottram International Piano Competition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK. This followed success in 2015 when he was a finalist (fourth prize and chamber music award) at the Hamamatsu Piano Competition and earlier was awarded second prizes at both the Santa Cecilia Competition in Porto, and the Premio Città di Imola at the Imola Academy. In 2014 Florian won third prize and the Classical Concerto Prize at the ARD International Competition in Munich, and first prize at Lagny-sur-Marne. Previous prizes include first prizes at the Panmusica 2010 Vienna International Piano Competition, the Beethoven 2010, and Sheepdrove 2011 Intercollegiate Competitions in the United Kingdom. Earlier prizes include several first prizes in the Romanian Music Olympics and the Ada Ulubeanu Piano Competition, and third prize in the Jeunesses Musicales International Competition.

Florian has performed recitals and concertos across Romania, and in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea and the USA. In the UK Florian has performed at venues including St John’s Smith Square, King’s Place, St. Martin-in-the Fields, St. James’ Piccadilly, Steinway Hall, Draper’s Hall, Colston Hall in Bristol, Dartington Hall and Bath Abbey.

Florian’s piano studies started in Bucharest as a student of Flavia Moldovan and Gabriela Enăşescu, ultimately at George Enescu Music High School. While studying at RAM with Diana Ketler he obtained his BMus with First Class Honours and the Regency Award for notable achievement. In the summer of 2014, he obtained his Master of Arts degree with Distinction and a DipRAM for his final recital, and received the Alumni Development Award for distinguished studentship. He held the Hodgson Memorial post-studentship Fellowship at RAM in 2014-2015 and continues to teach there within the piano department. Florian is currently studying with Boris Petrushansky at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola, Italy.


Guest post by Mark Ainley

Today officially marks the 100th anniversary of Dinu Lipatti’s birth and the fascination with this pianist continues unabated, his name continuing to be held in the highest esteem amongst piano fans and professionals alike due the truly exquisite craftsmanship of pianism found in the few recordings that he made before his premature death in 1950. His traversal of Chopin’s Waltzes is regularly singled out as the reference recording, as are his readings of the same composer’s Barcarolle and Third Sonata, and his Bach First Partita and ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ are among the most beloved Bach piano recordings ever made. It seems that each recorded performance by Lipatti is an example of pianistic mastery on every level – technically, emotionally, interpretatively, spiritually.

There are some who have wondered how much of Lipatti’s posthumous fame is the result of his tragic demise at the age of 33. Indeed, a good deal of mystique may be due to testimonials featuring religious terms: his recording producer Walter Legge said he had ‘the qualities of a saint’ and called him ‘a chosen instrument of God’ while Francis Poulenc apparently referred to him as ‘an artist of divine spirituality’. The story of his last recital in Besançon, France – where he was too weak to play the last Chopin Waltz he had programmed and played ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ instead – reads like something out of a Hollywood melodrama.

(Photo credit: Michel Meusy)

However, Lipatti received abundant praise for his playing and musicianship well before Hodgkin’s Lymphoma took its grip. The grandfather of cellist Steven Isserlis was on the jury of the 1933 Vienna Competition (Lipatti famously did not win first prize, much to Alfred Cortot’s consternation) and came home from the first round raving about “a 16-year old pianist from Romania who was so outstanding that he was convinced that he would win and become a world-beater.” The great Alfred Cortot, with whom Lipatti trained for five years, declared him “a second Horowitz” and stated that there was nothing to teach him – “one could, in fact, only learn from you.” Lipatti’s standing as a world-class pianist was evident in his teens, more than a decade and a half before his death, and his fame continued growing with each year.

The only large-scale solo work that Lipatti set down at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios was the Chopin Third Sonata, which won the Charles Cros Academy’s Grand Prix du Disque in 1949. The magnificent performance features a beautiful robust sonority, elegant phrasing, patrician timing, and subtle nuancing that is utterly beguiling:

Lipatti’s most famous recordings were made in Geneva under rather remarkable circumstances. Bolstered by outrageously expensive cortisone injections (paid for by wealthy patrons like Münch, Menuhin, and Sacher), Lipatti was enjoying renewed vitality and so at his doctor’s suggestion Legge had a van of recording equipment sent to Geneva from the Prades festival. A Radio Geneve studio was procured and over the course of ten days in July 1950 Lipatti set down critically acclaimed readings of works by Bach, Mozart, and Chopin that have never been out of the catalogue. The Bach Partita No.1 is particularly transcendent, with Lipatti’s incredibly consistent articulation and voicing, transparent textures, rhythmic momentum, and stunningly clear projection of motifs:

As remarkable as these performances are, Lipatti’s earlier recordings reveal a pianist with far more fire and bravura. A 1947 reading of Chopin’s Waltz in A-Flat Op.34 No.1 is much more virile, bold, and daring than his well-known 1950 account, with sparkling tone, a grand bass sonority, and brilliant runs, as well as some fascinating ‘breaks’ between phrases:

The recording that gives the greatest glimpse of the fullness of Lipatti’s pianistic and interpretative abilities is his April 1948 account of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso. With rapid-fire repeated notes, taut rhythmic bite, breathtaking runs of extraordinary lightness, creative voicing and pedalling, and graduated glissandi (4:25-4:31) of staggering ferocity and dynamic control (how that last one fades into the faintest pianissimo!), this is a performance needs to be heard (multiple times) to be believed. It is worth keeping in mind that recordings made on 78rpm discs were unedited, with no tape splicing possible, so what you’re hearing is exactly what he played:

The pianist’s last public performance has become the stuff of legend and the recording of that recital is one of the glories of the gramophone. The emotion of the concert comes through in the recording, as well as in images by local photographer Michel Meusy – the transfixed look of intensity on the faces of the audience members reveals the magnetism of the event, and those who were present stated that it was clear that Lipatti did not have long to live (he died 11 weeks later). Most intoxicating to my ears is his mournful reading of Schubert’s G-Flat Impromptu, with a gorgeous singing line soaring over an undulating murmur in the accompaniment, with gloriously peaked phrasing with fluid legato:

A century after Dinu Lipati’s birth, his legacy continues to grow. There are now two websites devoted to his memory – and – and new publications are forthcoming, with a new edition of his biography being published in Romania alongside the first ever publication of a series of his letters (currently in Romanian but due to be translated). And new recordings by this supreme musician are coming to light: 15 minutes of previously unpublished material – private discs of Scarlatti and Brahms – was recently discovered and will be released in a multi-pianist compilation on the Marston Records label, and the search for more continues. In the meantime, we can continue to enjoy the stellar playing of this master musician, whose playing was, in the words of Herbert von Karajan, “no longer the sound of the piano but music in its purest form.”


Mark Ainley is an internationally recognized authority on the art of piano playing and historical recordings of great pianists. His clear insights provide important details about the mastery of the pianists of the past and present through his magazine articles, blog (The Piano Files) and social media pages, CD productions and liner notes, and lecture-demonstrations.

More about Mark Ainley here