Juan Pérez Floristan – Poetry and seduction of the Rubinstein laureate in Poland


An amazing display of ‘love’ from the winner of the 2021 Artur Rubinstein competition.The young Spanish pianist Juan Pérez Floristan I had already heard when he gave his debut recital at the Wigmore Hall a few years ago as winner of the 2015 Santander Competition.I had noted then his very individual personality but also the ravishing beauty of his playing.He had begun his London debut recital in 2017 with the Liszt Sonata which I thought a very outlandish and maybe even a presumptuous thing to do .That is until I heard it and he completely convinced me.


But it took his winning of the Rubinstein competition six years later to launch his career.
I had heard his prizewinning performance of Beethoven fourth piano concerto starting with a great flourish in the name of authenticity.He then proceeded to embellish all Beethovens intricate ornamentation in the first movement.Not to mention all the spread chords in the second.
They say that Andras Schiff was denied first prize in Leeds for taking liberties with Bach in the name of authenticity.I know from Rosalyn Tureck that that was just gossip and the problem was of having so many great pianists all competing at the same time.I was surprised though that Floristan could have been awarded first prize having dared touch such a sacred work, one that Rubinstein loved above all others but never even spread a single chord!Rubinstein played it with a simplicity and beauty beyond compare – love and it’s comunication was his prime concern above the cold studies of musicologists.However no one knew the scores and their meaning better than Rubinstein.
Pressler was on the jury in Tel Aviv and his musical integrity is beyond compare -so how could this be!
These were all questions that were going on in my mind as I tuned in to the recital in the Duszniki Festival in Poland.
What I heard was a young man very similar in so many ways to the Tchaikowsky prize winner Alexandre Kantarow.Not only in their youthful Latin looks but in their deep love of the piano and the way they caress the keys as they mould such ravishing sounds out of the piano with a selfless dedication that is beguiling but above all breathtaking.This was in a series of concerts streamed live from Poland which included the prize winners from some of the most important International piano competitions.It has included the winners of Rubinstein,Van Cliburn,Chopin,Leeds and Busoni.As I listen to these recitals it becomes apparent that the winners have been chosen not for their dexterity or resilience but for their artistry and sensitivity.

Strangely enough he started his programme with the 24 Preludes by Chopin and ended with the Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert .One might have thought it a strange order but like the opening of his Wigmore recital with the Liszt Sonata his performances were so convincing .The placing of three works by Liszt between them was a master stroke of a true thinking musician.Liszt had been so overwhelmed by Schubert’s early Fantasy in which the transformation of themes was to become so significant for him and his father in law,Wagner and for all that followed in their wake.The Preludes by Chopin in Floristan’s hands were not those described by Fou Ts’ong as 24 problems but these were 24 jewels of ravishing beauty as the rays they projected shone with such radiance and subtle colouring within a sound world that was like a shell into which we were invited to look.The improvised beauty of the opening flourishes were transformed into a brooding almost lumbering second prelude on which the melodic line was placed so freely with subtle shaping of great delicacy.The lightness of his left hand in the third allowed the melodic line to sing without any forcing and was even allowed to breathe with the same liberty as a singer.The beauty of the fourth was enhanced by the opening rather rapid tempo that was allowed to dissolve into three beautifully placed chords of great significance.The whispered entrance of the fifth’s meanderings led to the luxuriance of the melodic line of the sixth suddenly bathed in a warm glow of pedal and where the final few bars were like a dream or reminiscence of what had come before.The grace and delicacy he brought to the seventh belied the fact it is the shortest of them all!The eighth grew out of this so naturally -one can see where Scriabin got his inspiration from- beautifully shaped with timeless phrasing despite the fistful of notes that have to be contemplated.The added bass notes in the ninth just added to the nobility and beauty and contrasted with the jets of jeux perlé interspersed between the simple melodic line.The frenzy and sense of dance in the twelfth was allied to a precision and clarity but given also shape and colour.The shimmering beauty of the thirteenth allowed the melodic line to float with subtle delicacy and breathless beauty.The almost secret entry of the wind blew itself out before the great bel canto singer took the stage with ‘raindrops’from heaven.Adding some slight embellishments of his own that only added to the beauty and legato line as a great singer might do with the superlative breath control of a Caballée.Even the usually overblown central section was allowed to grow so naturally and never was an unwanted visitor to this extraordinary tone poem.There was beauty and transcendental control with richly highlighted inner harmonies that added a golden richness to the sixteenth and seventeenth.There was passion and rhetoric in the cadenza of the eighteenth having crept in almost unnoticed before exploding before our very eyes.The transcendental difficulties of the nineteenth were ignored by a pianist that lives and breathes only music and the fullness of the C minor chords of the twentieth became a whispered secret in only a few magical bars .The octaves of the twenty second were played with the same mellifluous colour that had illuminated all the preludes .Chopin’s flowing jeux d’eau was of timeless beauty as the final prelude crept in with such subtlety without for a moment becoming the usual bombastic show piece we are used to in lesser hands.He even found time for a magical pianissimo in the ever boiling intensity and the final dive from the top to the bottom of the keyboard was greeted by three ‘D’s’of such colour and subtle vibrancy and not the usual bomb shell final blast played helter skelter with the right hand A performance where Floristan allowed the music to breathe and vibrate so naturally but also keeping the overall architectural line from the first improvised notes to the final beauty of the last three magic gongs.
Franz Liszt composed Sposalizio, which means marriage in Italian ,after being inspired by Raphael’s painting The Marriage of the Virgin.The first piece from Deuxième Année de Pélerinage :Italie (Second Year of Pilgrimage: Italy), published in 1858.Starting with a simple pentatonic melody, which is transformed into a complex musical shape. The melody is then transformed into a type of wedding march leading to the grand climax before dying away to a mere whisper.It was played with beautiful hand movements caressing the keys as I have only seen the like from Volodos, producing magic sounds with even the thumbs delicately punching the notes deep into the keys with passiona\te fervour within an almost whispered confession.The melodic line floated on the ever busy left hand that even in the most passionate climax never overpowered the melodic line and sense of overall shape.Coming full circle and ending with the same delicately played configurations as at the beginning. it prepared the scene for the brooding contemplation of ‘Pensieroso’
The concept of ‘Il pensieroso’ which Michelangelo Buonarroti symbolized in his idealized representation of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici at Florence’s Cappelle Medicee might have had even earlier roots but it became a fascinating subject for many years after Michelangelo’s time. ‘Il pensieroso’, this time was in Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie. The inspiration for the main title of the three cycles for piano solo came from Goethe whose Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (years of the journeyman) provided the idea. Much later in Liszt’s life, parts of ‘Il pensieroso’ surfaced once again in the second part of his Trois odes funèbres, La notte where Michelangelo meets Liszt, Milton, Goethe, Händel, and last not least the British/American Painter Thomas Cole.In La notte Liszt divides his attention between the tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici which shows the sleeping woman to the left symbolizing the night and the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici who is portrayed as the man who is deeply thinking seemingly in an introspective and melancholy mode. If Liszt’s La notte came after the untimely death of his daughter Blandine at childbirth, it adds tragedy to the composer’s life of highs and lows, of extremes and contradictions that it followed the early death of Liszt’s son Daniel which had been reflected in the music of Les morts. Here Liszt was seeking guidance from Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais, a priest and author who had Liszt’s confidence and trust throughout most of Liszt’s life. It is Lamennais’s presence when Liszt subtitled the work ‘oraison’ (prayer or oration). Les morts was dedicated to Liszt’s daughter Cosima who survived her father by almost a half-century. Liszt’s music can be said to represent a philosophy of art, poetry and religion, the complex sources he drew from,
the multitudes of inspiration from an unending number of origins and the awareness that Liszt’s work transcended music in a multitude of ways and means.
A deeply introspective performance where Floristan barely touched the keys before Liszt’s chords of the final scene from Tristan and Isolde opened a flood gate of a gasping,breathless unending build up of fragments that led to the final crowning passionate outpouring.It was played with a magical sense of colour with golden streams of sounds that grew so naturally with an inner passion and intensity that was mesmerising.Even the most passionate of climaxes was played with a beauty of sound from a pianist who could never play vertically but saw the long lines with his body movements as horizontal and deeply etched into the keys.The aching silence that greeted the final moments of this marvel were proof enough of the trance that had been created by this true poet of the Keyboard.
Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy of 15 D.760 closed this well thought out voyage.It was composed in 1822 and is widely considered Schubert’s most technically demanding composition for the piano. Schubert himself said “the devil may play it.”
The whole work is based on one single basic motif from which all the theme are developed. This motif is distilled from the theme of the second movement, which is a sequence of variations on a melody taken from the lied “Der Wanderer”, which Schubert wrote in 1816.
The four movements are played without a break. After the first movement Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo in C major and the second movement Adagio (which begins in C-sharp minor and ends in E major), follow a scherzo presto in A-flat major and the technically transcendental finale, which starts in fugato returning to the key of C major and becomes more and more virtuosic as it moves toward its thunderous nonfugal conclusion.
Liszt was fascinated by the Wanderer Fantasy, transcribing it for piano and orchestra (S.366) and two pianos (S.653). He additionally edited the original score and added some various interpretations in ossia and made a complete rearrangement of the final movement (S.565a).
Floristan brought great style and precision into an architectural shape of power and rhythmic precision.There were moments of great lyricism too but never allowing the impetus to relax.There were also added arpeggiando chords and some wickedly impish added ornaments in the Scherzo. But they were integrated into a whole with style and immediacy of communication.There was ravishing beauty and subtle colours of the ‘Wanderer’ variations and gentle playfulness of the Scherzo side by side with demonic outbursts and build ups of overwhelming intensity.Schubert’s early masterpiece in Floristan’s hands was restored to pinnacle of the keyboard repertoire alongside the B minor Sonata of Liszt of which it was the true inspiration.
A charming ‘thank you’ from Floristan who twice in the recital directed the audience’s enthusiasm to Chopin who was seated by his side.
‘We have been on a journey together from Poland and Majorca through Italy to Austria so now let’s go across the ocean to Argentina ‘.
And with that same charm he offered as an encore the beguiling second dance by Ginastera ‘La danza de la moza donosa‘.
Another encore by great insistence was the final dance from the three Danzas Argentinas where the directions such as furiosamente (“furiously”), violente (“violent”), mordento (“biting”), and salvaggio (“wild”) left no doubt as how to play this third dance, Danza del gaucho matrero (“Dance of the Outlaw Cowboy”).
‘You asked for it ‘ was Floristan’s final remark before letting rip with a truly transcendental performance of this very effective dance.The barely audible water boiling at 100 degrees at the beginning soon exploded into an overwhelming torrent of notes and a glissando that almost reached Chopin’s nose and back before crashing to a full stop .Our young poet had now let his hair down and shown us his transcendental technical control and virtuosity that had been totally at the service of the composers wishes throughout a memorable recital.As he himself said ‘ You asked for it !’
People in London on the 8th October at 7.30 in St John’s Smith can listen to this remarkable poet of the piano as Winner of the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv.



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