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Tales from Russia
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Tales of an Old Grandmother Op.31 (1918) [9:23]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Night on a bald mountain (1886, Rimsky-Korsakov version, arr. for piano, Konstantin Chernov) [12:37]
Scheherazade Op.35 (1888, arr. Paul Gilson) [44:40]
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
rec. 2018, The Friary, Liverpool, UK
ONYX CLASSICS 4191 [66:40]

Tales and legends have always been a rich source of inspiration for composers and Simon Trpčeski has chosen Rimsky-Korsakov's magical setting of tales from One thousand and one nights as the main fare in this wonderfully evocative album. Alongside it he places Mussorgsky's musical picture of a witches' Sabbath atop a bald (treeless) mountain and Prokofiev's short collection of Grandmother's tales.

In Scheherazade Trpčeski plays the transcription by Belgian composer Paul Gilson. I am not aware of any other solo piano recordings of this, or indeed any transcription of the entire score. Recordings of Prokofiev's short fantasy can be found (Evgenia Rubrinova AVI8553303 for example) and a more recent Belgian, Florian Noack has made his own dazzling arrangement which is nonetheless an extended fantasy on the suite (Ars Produktion ARS 38 148). Gilson's transcription is very effective, though as always in this genre orchestral colour and timbre is lost. If you enjoy listening to piano reductions of orchestral works this is a necessary and acceptable loss wherein a great pianist can instead convey a wide range of pianistic colour and texture, figuration and resonance. Timbre is a harder thing to replace and I felt it most keenly here in the solo violin cadenzas – that distinctive sound of bow against string is impossible to recreate; the voice of Scheherazade loses some of its magic. In all other respects this is a marvellous undertaking and Trpčeski's own little additions, mainly changes of register or thunderous octave doublings, only add to the grand effect.

He also makes subtle adjustments to Konstantin Chernov's masterful transcription of the Rimsky-Korsakov version of Mussorgsky's Night on a bald mountain. Boris Berezovsky recorded this back in 1994 (Review); technically there is little to choose between them, but I feel that Trpčeski's portrayal of the savagery of the unholy celebrations is much more lurid and primal. His recreation of those shrieking high winds in the opening bars is spine-tingling.

In the relative calm of the Grandmother's tales Trpčeski is in more intimate mood. He finds the character within each of these untitled pieces with a keen sense of graded dynamics, gentle rubato and humour.

Trpčeski has a real flair for this music and, like all good story-tellers he breathes life not only into the characters but also the world in which they live out their lives. His playing is vital and vivid; This isn't the playing for quaint armchair tales. No, his playing here is of full-blooded epic legends, visions of witches and demons in their unclean rites, the crash of cruel seas as a ship is dashed onto treacherous rocks, the vibrant clamour and heady atmosphere of a festival in Baghdad in full swing or the eternal waves that carry Sinbad on his life-changing voyages. This is gripping edge-of seat playing and I was swept along with its ebullience and energy. The rich, warm sound only emphasises the glorious piano sound.

Grand tales brought to vivid life by a master storyteller.

Rob Challinor

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