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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Arabesque No.1 (1891) [4:33]
Arabesque No.2 (1891) [3:06]
Children's Corner (1908)
I. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum [2:12]
II. Jimbo's Lullaby [3:24]
III. Serenade for the Doll [2:21]
 IV. The Snow is Dancing [2:46]
 V. The Little Shepherd [2:14]
VI. Golliwogg's Cake-walk [2:55]
Images: Book 1 (1905)
I. Reflets dans l'eau [6:32]
II. Hommage à Rameau [3:22]
III. Mouvement [3:22]
Images: Book II (1907)
I. Cloches à travers les féuilles [4:42]
II. Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût [5:00]
III. Poissons d'or [3:46]
Clair de lune (from Suite bergamasque, 1905) [4:36]
L'isle joyeuse (1904) [5:47]
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
rec. 14-15 May, 9-10 November 2007, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK
EMI CLASSICS 5002722 [62:27]


Experience Classicsonline

‘Echoes and reflections’, the punning title of Roger Nichols’ liner-note essay, makes the point that Debussy’s early piano works ‘echo’ the style of Schumann, Chopin and Grieg, while the later ones are utterly individual in their ‘floating, ornamental quality’. As for ‘reflections’ that’s all part of the composer’s painterly style; it’s a sound world that really comes to life at the hands of exceptional, intuitive/reflective pianists. The legendary Walter Gieseking was one, as are Pascal Rogé and Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

But what about Simon Trpčeski? The young Macedonian has already recorded discs of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Prokofiev, which may not make him an obvious choice in this repertoire. He is one of that new breed of European pianists who silence all criticism when it comes to sheer technique but seem to attract it in matters of style and execution.

The opening of Arabesque No. 1 is a very encouraging start, the music seductively shaped, the recording full-bodied and warm. There’s no doubt these early pieces owe much to Schumann et al, which is why they only hint at the harmonic complexities of Debussy’s later works. No matter, Trpčeski draws gloriously rich, firm sonorities from his piano, especially at the close of the first Arabesque. The more effervescent Arabesque No.2 certainly underlines his technical strengths, with some beautifully crystalline playing. That said Trpčeski’s almost forensic attention to detail sometimes robs the music of its character.

Only a minor reservation so far, but it’s potentially more serious when it comes to the wit and sparkle of Children’s Corner. The piano exercises of ‘Doctor Gradus’ ought to sound more affectionate and spontaneous than they do here. Trpčeski doesn’t seem comfortable with the subtle rhythms of the piece, which is also a problem with ‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’. The piano is very well captured throughout, especially in the bass, but that mix of fun and fantasy proves much more elusive.

The ‘Serenade for the Doll’ is short on charm, although Trpčeski makes amends with some evocative musical flurries in ‘The Snow is Dancing’. If only that undeniable talent were put to the service of the music and flaunted less this would be an enchanting performance. Regrettably enchantment is also in short supply in ‘The Little Shepherd’, which is despatched with little affection.

And while that perennial favourite the ‘Golliwogg’s Cake-walk’ has a few smile-inducing moments it sounds more like a stroll with Jimbo, thanks to awkward phrasing and extreme dynamics. It’s hard to believe this music can sound so ungainly; in fact, the Munich Trombone Quartet’s recent transcription of the piece has far more wit and rhythmic vitality than this.

The two books of Images show Debussy at his ‘floating, ornamental’ best, with ‘Reflets dans l'eau’ a quintessential example of his mature style. Trpčeski does bring out something of the music’s ambiguous, diffuse character, finding a Ravelian glitter in the treble flourishes as well. As for the composer’s homage to Rameau, Trpčeski achieves a certain gravitas and simplicity that is most apt, but makes ‘Mouvement’ sound too much like Rachmaninov. This impression is reinforced by a big-boned recording, which highlights Trpčeski’s dynamic excesses.

Broadly Book II brings with it the same reservations about style and scale, although ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût’ is slightly more successful in both respects. Trpčeski shows more restraint here, but then the piece barely rises above piano so there is no temptation to indulge in pyrotechnics. Not so in ‘Poissons d’or’, where Trpčeski really does sacrifice musical good sense on the altar of empty showmanship. Very disappointing indeed.

The real surprise is the success of ‘Clair de lune’. Trpčeski plays this magical score with astonishing sensitivity He doesn’t dispense with the extrovert approach entirely but achieves a welcome degree of refinement and charm. And the sense of scale is altogether more satisfying too. There is some really lovely, idiomatic playing here; if only Trpčeski musical judgment were more consistent this would be a very desirable disc indeed.

‘L’isle joyeuse’ is middle-period Debussy, harmonically more complex and stylistically better suited to Trpčeski’s gregarious musical personality. He certainly points up the music’s coruscating character and despatches it in a dazzling display that Liszt might have envied.

And therein lies the rub. This music has a number of wonderful interpreters so one wonders whether commercial considerations and the lure of a ‘star’ pianist outweighed more important artistic ones. On the basis of this disc at least it seems Trpčeski’s flamboyant style is better suited to Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Of course that may change, but for the moment this is very much a work in progress.

Dan Morgan




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