Chopin – Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op.35
Debussy – Children’s Corner
Prokofiev – Old Grandmother’s Tales Op.31
Prokofiev – Toccata in D minor, Op.11
Prokofiev – Piano Sonata no.7 in B flat major, Op.83
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Simon Trpčeski possesses a phenomenal technique, but is also clearly a fine musician with a mind of his own. Chopin’s second sonata received a commanding reading, a couple of slips in the scherzo notwithstanding. Trpčeski has an extraordinary fullness of tone: undoubtedly pianistic, but also highly suggestive at times of orchestral colours. This, one could tell, was someone born to play a Steinway (and Rachmaninov). The first movement was big-boned, at times almost Beethovenian in its sound, although there is of course nothing Beethovenian about Chopin’s remarkably original handling of sonata form. There was a true sense of a cortège to the Marche funèbre, which somewhat surprisingly put me in mind of the ‘Bydlo’ from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The middle D flat major section of this movement was especially notable. Taken at a daringly slow pace, there was a daring spareness of texture allied to the noble singing tone that was Trpčeski’s throughout the recital. The Presto final movement sounded less spare, less flickering, than is generally the case, but certainly worked well in Trpčeski’s bolder interpretation of its moto perpetuo. Indeed, there was a sense in which it therefore seemed more of a ‘finale’ than is often the case with a movement that bewildered Schumann and Mendelssohn amongst others.
The six movements of Debussy’s Children’s Corner were sharply and winningly characterised. Trpčeski’s Debussy is not a composer of (post-)impressionist hazes, but paints in bold, primary colours. This is Debussy for the Steinway, not the Erard. I do not wish to imply absence of variegation. ‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’ was softer in touch and approach than, say, its predecessor, ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’, which fairly rattled through Debussy’s affectionate parody of Clementi’s tedious keyboard exercises. Yet mystery was not to the fore of this pianist’s agenda. Occasionally, for instance in ‘The snow is dancing’, I felt this as a lack, but there were compensations aplenty, not least from Trpčeski’s tightness of rhythm, which did not preclude well-considered rubati from time to time. This is a pianist of aristocratic poise, as he would also show in the first of his encores, the first Arabesque. The part-writing was as clear as it would have been with Maurizio Pollini, but with a more Romantic, less modernistic tone. In ‘Golliwogg’s cake walk’, the gently mocking quotations from Tristan und Isolde were wonderfully handled: full of character, yet integrated into the general musical argument.
Prokofiev perhaps fared best of all. The Old Grandmother’s Tales sounded duly nostalgic, pining for a Mussorgskian ‘Mother Russia’ that no longer existed, if ever it had. The ‘whiteness’ of Prokofiev’s piano writing – irrespective of key – was married to a wonderful, vocal projection of line. This was followed by a simply spellbinding Toccata, which never relented and yet never lost that extraordinary fullness of tone. I have long treasured Pollini’s recording of the seventh sonata as hors concours, but upon the evidence of this recital, Trpčeski is a serious rival. Indeed, his tone and more general post-Romantic approach are arguably more appropriate than the crystalline modernism of the Italian pianist. (In practice, of course, there is absolutely no reason why one should choose; I simply mention Pollini in order to signal the level of pianism at which Trpčeski is operating.) The mechanical – war-like? – quality of some of the first movement’s rhythms was once again projected with an orchestral fullness of tone. This did not soften the hints – and more – of barbarism, but rather heightened the tension. The pianist’s singing tone and length of line present in the middle Andante caloroso could not have been more impressive. And the barbarism of the final Precipitato exceeded that of the Toccata, which in retrospect at least now sounded jejune. The relentless 7/8 rhythm put me in mind of the wilder reaches of Bartók (in whose music I should love to hear Trpčeski), and once again this was miraculously accomplished without the slightest hardening of tone. There was an abandon which perforce had to remain controlled, but one might never have guessed so as the sonata was hurled towards its barnstorming conclusion. Trpčeski had the measure of that strange marriage between percussive and lyrical writing, which stands at the heart of Prokofiev’s writing for his own instrument.