Plamena Mangova

If you’re looking for musicians who engage in real music-making, here’s a pianist you should keep an eye on. Currently residing in Brussels, Bulgarian pianist Plamena Mangova began her training at the Sofia State Music Academy. She later worked with the renowned pianist and pedagogue, Dmitri Bashkirov, as well as Abdel Rahman El Bacha. Winner of the Silver Prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition and Diapason d’Or de l’Année in 2007 for her Shostakovich album, Mangova has performed with leading orchestras like the Staatskapelle Berlin, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and with eminent conductors including Sir Colin Davis and Myung-Whun Chung.

Plamena Mangova

Plamena Mangova © Marco Borggreve

Plamena Mangova is certainly one of those pianists I wish I had discovered earlier. My initial encounter with her name came through the video below, and let’s be honest, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is so overplayed that it risks sounding trite. I was fortunate enough to have clicked on the suggested video on YouTube regardless – which turned out to be a revelation. Though not overtly extravagant, her playing exuded brilliance and virtuosity whenever the music asked for it. Just take a moment to appreciate how she tackled the (in)famous octaves at 35:22 with absolute poise and panache, and how the delicate passagework at 26:01 was negotiated with finesse and vivacity. However, what really captivated me was her profound musicality and distinctive personality that shone through in this performance. In the second movement, a rare intimate dialogue unfolded between the piano and the orchestra, where musicians actively listened and responded to one another instead of solely minding their own business. Equally mesmerising was the way she characterised the opening of the finale – never had I heard the opening theme dance with such a natural pulse, spontaneity and tasteful rubato, even when compared to the all-time greats.

Tchaikovsky: Concerto Piano No.1 / Plamena Mangova, Boian Videnoff – Mannheimer Philharmoniker

Described as a “whimsical homage” to the second movement of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Richard Strauss’ Burleske in D minor has remained one of his most celebrated early works, which Mangova rendered with lyricism, technical prowess, wit and the flair of late Romanticism, accompanied by a sumptuously full-bodied tonal palette. On the other hand, the exotic influences in Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas were fully realised, with Mangova fearlessly unleashing the uninhibited wildness in No.3 (at 26:16).

Plamena Mangova – Strauss Burleske, Ginastera Danzas Argentinas No. 2, 3

Mangova’s collaboration with cellist Alexander Kniazev is yet another testimony to her musicianship. Whether providing robust support to the cello or taking up the soloist role when the music demands so, she achieves unity with the cellist and convincingly conveys a shared musical narrative. Her affinity for chamber music explains how she ignited such chemistry with an orchestra even in works like Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, which is often reduced to a battle between the piano and the orchestra.

César Franck: Violin Sonata in A major, M.8 (arr. for cello and piano) – II. Allegro (Alexander Kniazev, cello; Plamena Mangova, piano)
Eugène Ysaÿe: Poeme elegiaque, Op.12 (arr. for cello and piano) (Alexander Kniazev, cello; Plamena Mangova, piano)

Dedicated to the late Dmitri Bashkirov, Mangova’s latest album, aptly titled “Lettres Intimes”, features works by Robert & Clara Schumann and Brahms. Through the exquisitely crafted programme, she delves into the intricate relationship between the trio, a story that can perhaps be best told through music rather than words. For instance, the first Fantasiestücke by Schumann oozes intense yearning and inner conflict, while the Andante espressivo from Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 radiates tenderness and embracing warmth.

Piano Recital: Mangova, Plamena - BRAHMS, J. / SCHUMANN, C. / SCHUMANN, R. (Lettres intimes)
Robert Schumann: Fantasiestücke Op. 111 – No. 1. Sehr rasch, mit leidenschaftlichem Vortrag (Plamena Mangova, piano)
Johannes Brahms: Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor – II. Andante espressivo (Plamena Mangova, piano)

Finally, if you’ll allow me to share one more recording with you, prepare to be dazzled by Mangova’s performance of Liszt’s rarely heard Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies, which I stumbled upon while penning this article. The intertwining lassan and friska danced with a freely improvisatory character; the embellishments were handled with pearl-like delicacy. In short, what a delight!

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Liszt: Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies

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  1. Thank you, Anson, to price a pianist I discovered long time ago with great admiration for her exquisite musicality, alas very underrated and deserving a much wider recognition !

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