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Haydn, Mozart, Chopin, Shahov: Simon Trpčeski (piano). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Tuesday, 13.10.2009 (CC)

Ever since experiencing Simon Trpčeski in Prokofiev in the finals of the World Piano Competition in London some good few years ago now, I have been rather fascinated by this pianist. He has sound musical intellect, a daring way with programming and is unafraid of risks. A fine choice of pianist with which to begin the 2009/10 International Piano Series. The reality did not quite live up to the promise.

Trpčeski oozed confidence as he walked on stage. His love of Haydn was clear in his account of Haydn’s C minor Sonata, Hob.XVI:20. Despite a light touch, one was aware that Trpčeski was honouring the work’s exploratory side, without transgressing over any stylistic boundaries. He clearly loved the cheeky elements of the finale. The central Andante con moto was the weak point – polite, but in need of more fantasy.

The programming of two lesser-known sets of variations by Mozart worked very well indeed. First, the six Variations in F on “Salve tu, Domine” from Paisiello’s I filosofo immaginarii, K398. The ultra-sweet theme led to a little selection of surprises, . The opening variation nodded towards a Baroque, Scarlatti-like rhythmic play. Mozart places a little harmonic postscript at the end of variations. The lovely Adagio variation was the highlight. We were promised Two Variations on “Come un agnello” from Sarti’s Fra I due litiganti yet Trpčeski seemed to add a few extra, spurious variations. This was superb pianism though. It would be good to hear more from this pianist in this particular repertoire.

The interval followed – after exactly 30 minutes: Trpčeski walked on at 734pm and closed the first part at 804pm. Short measure all round, in fact – the concert finished around 920pm. The second part featured four Chopin Nocturnes and a World Premiere. Chopin’s pair of Nocturnes, Op. 32, perhaps surprisingly, found Trpčeski finding his feet bar by bar. The opening of Op. 32/1 (B major) was wooden, and it was not until the lovely central section that warmth found its way in; drama, too appeared via a composed recitative. The A-flat partner piece was far better, more rounded as an interpretation. Unaffected and stylish, its passion contrasted with the half-lights of the F sharp minor Nocturne, Op. 48/2. The final offering in this group was Op. 48/1, beautifully unhurried, the ominous octaves reminding us that these masterpieces contain much more than just subdued night music.

Finally, the World Premiere: the suite, Songs and Whispers by Trpčeski’s friend, Pande Shahov (born 1973). The six movements divide into four movements based on Macedonian songs from the composer’s childhood and two movements take Chopin as their starting points. Shahov studied at Royal Holloway with Julian Anderson and currently studies with Phil Cashian at RCM. The language is mainly tonal, with pronounced influences of Scriabin as well as Prokofiev (the Prokofiev of the famous keyboard Toccata, to be accurate). The most emotive movement is the penultimate (which starts with a quote from Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17/4). Nowhere, however, was the presence of a major new composing talent in evidence, but as a crowd-pleaser the piece fulfils its function.

Colin Clarke

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