Simon Trpceski, piano; Works by Haydn, Mozart, Chopin and Shahov; Chan Centre, February 20, 2011

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The solo recital of Simon Trpceski, the acclaimed 31-year old pianist from the eastern-European Republic of Macedonia, turned out to be one of the real highlights of this year’s Vancouver Recital Society concert season.  In a recital ranging from Haydn to contemporary Macedonian composer Pande Shahov, we saw a wonderful combination of a finely-tuned keyboard control, intellectual strength, and an acute sensitivity to the emotional dimensions of the music played.

From the contemplative opening of Haydn’s Sonata No. 33, it was evident just how elegant this pianist is and how he could use his beautiful tone to give meaning to each note.  His playing is exact, but it is his thoughtful control of dynamics and his ability to point phrases with just the right emphasis and weight that makes his playing so involving and ‘alive’.  The two slower movements of this work showed great subtlety in emotional expression and awareness of fine detail, while the quick finale flowed from beginning to end, blending wit with intelligence.

I would have never thought that a performance of two middle-period Variations by Mozart could be an engrossing experience, but Trpceski gave these minor works a stature that is rare.  He developed both with a wide emotional range, bringing the playful and serious elements together into a telling whole.  Here and in the Haydn, one noted that the pianist always brought out this variety within the bounds of ‘classical’ style.  Often, young pianists who perform grand romantic works cannot find much emotional content or sense of style when turning back to the earlier classical repertoire.  Here it was the opposite: a good test of the extent of Trpceski’s resources, since he has also been widely-praised for his recordings of Rachmaninoff (EMI Classics 724355794352 and Avie 2192).

There was atmosphere aplenty in the four Chopin Nocturnes that followed, developed in a most concentrated, sculpted way.  Pianistic control of the highest order indeed and what wonderful tonal hues and soft playing he produced!    However, like Claudio Arrau’s classic Philips interpretation, these were clearly Nocturnes set in a granite-like foundation.  With less rubato and caprice than others might employ, they may not be for all tastes or moods.  Hearing these four pieces together was illuminating but I doubt that a complete set of Nocturnes could take this weight and intensity.  The pianist’s recent Chopin recital is on EMI Classics 94638795254.

The final ‘Songs and Whispers’ is a recently-premiered joint collaboration between the pianist and composer Shahov, a work that celebrates Macedonian folk history as well as Chopin’s 200th anniversary.  In his introduction, the pianist actually sang for us the four Macedonian songs involved (a rare occurrence -- perhaps he will have another career before long!), also noting the quotations from Chopin.   This work was a superb vehicle for Simon Trpceski’s talents – his fingering is simply remarkable -- but it remains a pleasant piece rather than anything more.  Some of it has the feel of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, though with modernist touches thrown in.

This concert was an instructive example of how much maturity, vision and mastery a young performer can have.  Simon Trpceski gave us a fully memorable and engaging recital with no ostentatious display whatsoever and in fact without performing one really major work.  This is a pianist that the world must watch very carefully.

© Geoffrey Newman 2011