Rachmaninov Piano Concertos 2 & 3 – Trpčeski & Petrenko [Avie]

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Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30

Simon Trpčeski (piano)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic OrchestraVasily Petrenko

Recorded 8 & 9 April and 1 August 2009 in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: March 2010
Duration: 76 minutes



While recent developments within the industry might lead one to question whether recordings will after all supplant the experience of live music-making, for the majority of music- lovers compact discs still matter a good deal. The Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski sprang to prominence in 2002 with the release of his mixed Russian recital on EMI’s Debut label, while Vasily Petrenko’s Liverpool tenure started making bigger waves in 2007 with an audacious coupling of the Shostakovich-completed Fleishman opera, “Rothschild’s Violin”, with his own incomplete effort, “The Gamblers” (Avie/RLPO). Naxos has since embarked on a complete cycle of Shostakovich’s symphonies in Liverpool. Trpčeski has made several recital discs for EMI but this is, surprisingly perhaps, his first with orchestra.

At concerts I have sometimes been disconcerted by this pianist’s capacity to switch from ultra-sensitive filigree work to over-projected machismo, wondering which the real deal was. It is the relaxed, almost laid-back artist we meet here in readings which may disappoint those accustomed to the grand manner in Rachmaninov but which may well accord more closely with the impression the composer-pianist himself produced.

Unfortunately neither concerto enjoys absolutely first-rate sound. Set against the amazing clarity of BIS’s recent pairing of two Prokofiev concertos with Freddy Kempf and Andrew Litton in Bergen, the effect here seems recessed and generalised though perfectly pleasing. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s evolving Rachmaninov series for Avie has already produced the goods in purely orchestral music so why should this second instalment lack sonic sparkle? Is the hall itself culpable?

Trpčeski makes his interpretative intentions plain at the outset, launching Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto in more subdued fashion than the likes of Sviatoslav Richter (DG). He is also faster, though not as fast as Stephen Hough whose rather soulless new-broom coveys much less emotional intensity (Hyperion). The beauty of Trpčeski’s tone and his careful attention to phrasing and dynamics are very striking yet his performance adds up to something less than the sum of its parts. If the virtuosity demonstrated in the whirlwind pacing of parts of the finale, like the lucid exposition of detail in the dreamy central adagio, fractionally misses the mark, perhaps it’s because the depth of sonority of Petrenko’s string section has to be taken on trust. Even in concerts the band’s woodwind solos lack, thus far, the extra individuality associated with bigger names. At least there’s no mistaking the fresh-minted quality of the conception.

Nothing clangourous about the Third Concerto either (seemingly recorded several weeks before a Liverpool concert performance). As so often the opening movement sounds not quite in tune, the impact nothing like as severe as it was on Vladimir Ashkenazy’s once-celebrated Philadelphia/Ormandy recording (RCA). Trpčeski, like Ashkenazy on occasion, opts for the bigger of the two cadenzas in the first movement, the bravura here almost skittish, never rammed home or overstated. If anything the reverse is true. I was in two minds. No doubt the performers wanted to make a lighter, lither effect than we are used to but surely the soft-focus reproduction reduces the impact of what will have been heard live.

A generous trilingual booklet, containing full details of the orchestral line-ups in both concertos, just about fits in the jewel case. These are fascinating, often scintillating renditions which, in eschewing the obvious wow factor, won’t suit everyone.

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