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S & H Concert Review

Stravinsky, Saint-Saens, Rachmaninov, Simon Trpceski (pf), Philharmonia Orchestra, Alexander Lazarev, RFH, 26th June 2003 (MB)


Saint-Saens Second Piano Concerto is a work with which Simon Trpceski is becoming increasingly identified in this country – only a month or so ago he gave a performance of it with the Scottish Chamber orchestra, one of almost incandescent fury in the outer movements. If this performance, under Alexander Lazarev and the Philharmonia Orchestra, was both more weighty, and at times more ponderous, it still conveyed this pianist’s gift for enthralling the listener with the most expressive legato. The opening andante, for example, so evocative of the middle movement of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, produced superbly poetic playing, notably at the top end of the keyboard where Trpceski relies on a firm, but sonorous, edge to his finger placement.

He is equally miraculous in the bass register – the opening toccata, for example, had a thrilling range and depth of tone. What continues to impress with this pianist though is his technique – octaves were as well placed as you will ever hear in this concerto and he played the cadenza with effortless virtuosity. If his use of rubato was perhaps slightly more extremely applied in the first movement than I have previously heard (this was a markedly slower performance than the one he gave with the SCO), and the allegro uncovered the slightest hint of some misplaced fingers, it was still a gripping journey through a concerto which in the right hands can sound less trivial than it often is. Lazarev might not have been his ideal accompanist, however – there was more than a little suggestion that the conductor was impatient with his young soloist’s relatively long pauses between movements, and at times Lazarev didn’t seem to care whether the orchestra’s playing drowned out the soloist.

The Philharmonia’s performance of the 1919 suite from The Firebird did not begin propitiously: some coarse brass intonation aside, string tone was often wiry. The real problem, however, was Lazarev’s tempi which, especially in the ‘Infernal Dance of Kashchei’, were pedantic and distorted. Dramatically, I can rarely think of a performance that I have found less compelling but having said that he used his hands and body to seduce from the orchestra some fabulously well balanced dynamics. Pianissimos really were hushed – at times almost a whisker away from inaudibility – and woodwind playing was often characterfully drawn. ‘The Firebird’s Lullaby’ was given feather-like delicacy and the ‘Finale’ was a mere step away from brutality.

Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances produced the best orchestral playing of the evening – and some very brooding string tone – but this too was a performance which didn’t really grip the imagination. Lazarev coaxed some beautifully magical dance rhythms during the second movement’s sinister waltz, and in the first a compelling urgency, but the lasting impression was of a performance that lacked that last ounce of spontaneity. If he kept the lento assai section of the third movement liquid it had the effect of making the allegro less enervating than it can be (despite the conductor’s bull-fighter gestures which brought the work to its sonorous conclusion).

One odd feature of this concert was that each of the works played lasted almost exactly as long as they were scheduled to play in the programme notes (24, 22 and 35 minutes respectively). And this was surely the concert’s problem – it just didn’t seem to have enough freedom from the shackles of the stopwatch.

Marc Bridle



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