The unexpected from Simon Trpčeski: a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

July 3, 2018 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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Those who have followed the career of Macedonian pianist, Simon Trpčeski, might have expected a program of at least some popular technical showpieces for his solo concert in the Sydney Recital Hall last night.

Fraser Beath McEwing

He’s recorded several explosive performances of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos along with spirited readings of Chopin, Mozart and others. But instead, he presented a selection of three seldom played works, two of which are usually heard in their orchestral versions. Initially, I saw this as a risk, but I came away uplifted.

This concert was as much about the unorthodox program as it was about the playing. It comprised Grieg’s Holberg Suitein its original piano form, a selection of seven of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Wordsand a piano transcription by Paul Gilson of Rimsky-Korsakov’sScheherazade. Not a standard warhorse among them. But any anticipation that this might have offered up a night of subdued, completive music would have been way off the mark. It turned out to be some of the most arresting piano playing presented at the Recital Hall and revealed Simon Trpčeski as a pianist of extraordinary capability. His dynamic range was almost beyond belief, able to produce sustained thunder all the way down to tiny, heart-wringing droplets of sound.

Simon Trpčeski

While Grieg’s Holberg Suite has become an orchestral standard, it was originally written as a piano solo. It became so popular that Edvard hastily recast it for string orchestra – which is where most people would have first encountered it. In this sense, the orchestral version is the transcription, leaving the original as a piano piece intended for professional pianists with plenty of technical oomph. Trpčeski made it sparkle to the point where you could disregard the orchestral cousin and revel in the five section piano version. While Trpčeski played the entire work peerlessly, the fourth movement, Air, was moving-to-tears stuff.

Mendelssohn invented the song without words genre and went on to write over 50 of them. Trpčeski chose seven, obviously to exploit the range of Mendelssohn’s inventiveness. While many of the 50 odd comprise a right hand melody with a left hand accompaniment – as you’d expect in a song – there are some that push the singing boundaries aside to make way for bravura fireworks. There is no better example than Op. 19b No. 3, which storms out of the piano and fills the room with rich sound. Again Trpčeski was in complete control, whether to hell-raise or romance.

The entire second half of the program was given over to 40 minutes of Scheherazadein the Gilson transcription. Several composers/arrangers have attempted piano versions of this orchestral favourite but, in my opinion, it does not translate well, even in the two piano arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov himself. There is just too much instrumental colour to imitate on a piano. While I still hold that view, even after hearing Trpčeski play the Gilson transcription, it doesn’t detract from the sublime quality of the performance. I don’t recall ever having heard a sustained attack of such length, complexity and sheer technical brilliance than Trpčeski produced in the final movement. It finished with a tremolo in each hand at either end of the piano that began with a murmur and built to a roar before Trpčeski flung his arms away from the Steinway keyboard – spent.

Sydney Recital Hall Piano Series 3 July 2018

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