“He came, he played and he conquered” about sums up Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski’s concert in Dublin last night. This was playing of consummate elegance, filled with deep thoughtfulness and backed up by a colossal technique that could not just do anything, but amazed the onlooker in the process. This was a solidly constructed programme that emphasised poetry and steeliness in equal measure. The first half was taken up with lesser known romantic works of Brahms and Liszt, while Russian composers made up the second half.

Simon Trpčeski © Benjamin Ealovega
Simon Trpčeski
© Benjamin Ealovega

Opening with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Schumann, Trpčeski captured the reflective, pensive nature of these variations. From the start, he spun his gossamer line of melody, creating a patchwork of exquisitely shaped phrases. Equally notable was his sensitivity to tonal colour. Trpčeski was akin to Monet, delicately shading his pianissimo from his piano with great subtly. He was mercurial in his approach to the cascading scales of Variation 9 while there was shy beauty to the poetry of Variation 10. The virtuosic demands of Variations 5 and 6 were dispatched as if child’s play.

Trpčeski chose three Valses caprices d’apres Schubert from Liszt’s Soirée de Vienne nos 5-7 though he did end off with no. 6 with its popular lilt and widely recognised tune. In no.5, Trpčeski shaped the pearly melody firstly in his right hand and then answering with his left hand, the contrapuntal lines scintillatingly clear. No. 7 in A major showcased Liszt’s brilliance in imitating Schubertian tropes and style. Trpčeski also chose to use the soft pedal as a tonal device to great effect. It was in no. 6 that Trpčeski illustrated more of what was to come in the second half as regards theatrics. Attacking the opening octaves of the piece with vim and no little vigour, he played with Bohemian charm the lilting waltz, drama lurking in every phrase. As the piece progressed the filigree glistened and sparkled with all the brilliance of a Waterford Crystal cut chandelier.

The second half opened with Prokofiev’s muted Tales of an old Grandmother. Here Trpčeski conveyed the strange, the fantastical with glowering left hand octaves and the reflective right hand suggested the quiet narrating voice of a babushka telling bedtime stories to her grandchildren.

It was Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bald Mountain (arranged for piano by Konstantin Chernov) that took Trpčeski from a peaceful, reflective mode into sports-car mode. Conveying the hellish cackle with the diminished 5th shrieks and nasty fast staccato repeated notes, he proceeded to mesmerise us with electrifying octaves and all the other fiendish technical difficulties at speeds that were outrageous. Yet even with all this bravura-busting show he still managed to ratchet up the tension with exciting dynamic control. The daybreak section when it came was a bit of an anti-climax pianistically.

Awash with victory and adrenalin from the last piece, Trpčeski turbocharged his Prokofiev Sonata no. 7 in B flat major taking the first movement at the fastest pace I’ve heard. The angular opening was bright and sharp with incisive, harsh staccatos. In the calmer sections, he brought out the inner and outer voices perfectly before relapsing into the ludic and madly frenetic moments. Trpčeski avoided any type of sentimentality to the romantic sounding melody that opens the second movement, preferring to play it in an ironic, almost cold-hearted way. It was a novel approach and a convincing one too. The moto perpetuo third movement was, not unexpectedly, a high-octane explosion of energy with its jagged 7/8 rhythm, crashing accents and nervous pianissimos. 

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