Take some stiff paper and a stick of charcoal, then attempt to draw Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses. However skilled the sketch, it’s never going to be able to replicate the colours of the original. I harboured similar doubts about Simon Trpčeski tackling Scheherazade on the piano at Wigmore Hall yesterday evening. Surely, however skilled the playing, the results would be aurally limited compared with the richness of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral palette?

Simon Trpčeski © KulturOp | Lube Saveski
Simon Trpčeski
© KulturOp | Lube Saveski

Trpčeski played a transcription for solo piano made in 1918 by the Belgian composer Paul Gilson – or rather a “réduction” as the score describes it. And there’s the problem. By condensing the orchestral parts down to a single piano, Rimsky’s masterpiece is reduced. It felt like viewing Scheherazade’s exotic world through a monochrome veil. However, there is no doubt that Trpčeski adores this score and he hurled himself into a bravura performance with vigorous abandon. Indeed, at times he came close to driving it too hard, although the piano – unlike the ship in the finale – didn’t quite splinter on the rocks.

The performance worked well in the more reflective moments. Trpčeski gave a wistful treatment of the bassoon/oboe melody which opens The Tale of the Kalendar Prince, while he allowed the expansive phrases in The Young Prince and the Princess to breathe longingly. In the slower passages, the young Macedonian seemed to have time to spare, even managing to adjust his cufflinks mid-phrase. There was highly virtuosic playing in the more dramatic episodes, especially the surface glitter of the shipwreck. Trpčeski was fully immersed in his voyage through The Arabian Nights, rocking on the piano stool as Sinbad’s ship ploughed the ocean in the first movement. The perky clarinet theme in the third movement felt harried, though, and Trpčeski chose to end the performance with a mighty crescendo, where Gilson’s score – at least in the copy I’ve seen – closes on pianissimo tremolandos.

The first half of Trpčeski’s programme – Grieg’s Holberg Suite and a selection of Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words – had the same strengths and weaknesses. Faster movements, like the Prelude to the Holberg Suite, bustled along loudly, with plenty of pedal, the Rigaudon a touch bass-heavy. Trpčeski was at his best in the quieter sections: the Sarabande was nicely relaxed, while the Air was sincere, the pianist gazing into the middle distance as if offering up a prayer. Most of the clutch of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words were beautifully delivered. The F sharp minor Venetian Gondola Song scudded along the canal swiftly, while Op.62 no. 1 in G major was a model of simplicity, Trpčeski allowing the music to unfold gently. The Hunt, Op.19 no. 3, galloped along hard, the F sharp minor Op.67 no. 2 rather too nervy, missing the last gossamer touch.

Three encores followed to close this entertaining programme, one from each of the evening’s composers: a second Venetian Gondola Song bobbed delicately; Grieg’s bashful Waltz in A minor charmed; Rimsky’s Bumblebee buzzed fiercely, a swarm of semiquavers dashed off stylishly.

***11