Saturday, February 8, 2014

New Discovery in the New Year

My first musical discovery in 2014 is a live recording from 2011 of Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Prats. Not only was I unfamiliar with Mr. Prats’s artistry, much of the repertoire he presents in his recital are new discoveries for me.

Jorge Luis Prats won the prestigious Long-Thibaud competition in 1977, a win that should have introduced him to the musical world in the most spectacular way. Because Prats is Cuban, his career became the victim of cold war politics, limiting his performances to (then) Soviet-bloc countries as well as in Mexico, Cuba, and South America. The present recording, made in the beautiful concert hall in Zaragoza, Spain, marks his first major performance in Europe for many years. Listening to this recording prompted the question of why we had to wait so long to hear this major artist. Is this not another reminder that talent is often the last and least of the factors in the “making” of a musical career?

Prats opened his recital with five of Granados’s monumental piano cycle, Goyescas – the pianist left out the Epilogo, but inserted between the fourth and fifth pieces another Granados work, El pelele. Goyescas was of course the composer’s hommage to the great Spanish painter. Granados loved the works of Goya, “for his models, quarrels, his loves and flatteries; those pink and white cheeks against lace and black velvet, those tight-waisted bodies, hands of jasmine and mother-of-pearl resting on jet trinkets. All of these things dazzled and possessed me.”

Just as the works of Goya dazzled Granados, listeners have long been dazzled and moved by Granados’s richly coloured score ever since its premiere in 1914, with its dense and multi-layered piano writing, and its many beguiling melodies. The thickness of the pianistic texture, as well as the almost insurmountable pianistic challenges, presents difficulties for any pianist attempting this music. For me, the greatest challenge lies in presenting this music idiomatically, and with élan and style. Prats’s playing towers above the many challenges presented in the score, and he plays this music as if he was born for it. The pianist brings out the character of every work in the set - the suaveness and gracefulness of the opening Los Requiebros, the quasi-impressionistic Coloquio en la Reja, the high-spirited El Fandango de Candil, the melancholic and tender Quejas Ó La Maya Y El Ruiseñor, for me the emotional core of the entire set, and the death-haunted El Amor Y La Muerte – and highlight for us the beauty inherent in every one of the unique pieces in Granados giant canvas. These are performances that give us not only visceral excitement, which many pianists today are capable of, but moments of great depth, expressiveness, emotion and tenderness. This is piano playing that moves.

I only wonder why the pianist added El pelele in between Quejas Ó La Maya Y El Ruiseñor and El Amor Y La Muerte. For me, the character of El pelele does not match the character of the rest of the pieces in the set. Moreover, there is a strong thematic connection between Quejas Ó La Maya Y El Ruiseñor and El Amor Y La Muerte, as well as an emotional connection between the two works, a connection that is broken by the insertion of an extraneous work in between.

None of the other works in this recital, from Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachiana brasileira No. 4, to the three encores that followed, cast any doubts in my mind that Jorge Luis Prats is a stupendous pianist, and a major artist. In the three encores, the pianist rewards the audience with Carlos Fariñas’s Alta Gracia, Ignacio Cervantes salon-like Danzas cubanas, and Ernesto Lecuona’s famous Malagueña. These are music of a lighter vein, which in many ways augments the challenge for the artist, who must play this music not only convincingly, but also with taste. Prats plays this music with great humour, conviction, taste, and style.

I hope that this beautifully recorded and engineered recording from Decca will serve to raise the consciousness of Jorge Luis Prats in the minds of music lovers. There is no reason why an artist of this caliber should not become a household name in pianistic circles. He certainly deserves to be.

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