Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat, Op.35
The Four Scherzos: No.1 in B minor, Op.20; No.2 in B flat, Op.31; No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.39; No.4 in E, Op.54
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Recorded 26-29 July 2006 in Potton Hall, Suffolk
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: April 2007
CD No: EMI 3 75586 2
Duration: 65 minutes
To date, Simon Trpčeski’s recorded output has concentrated on Russian composers; nevertheless, he has been tipped for future greatness. Here he tackles a composer who is not exactly under-represented in the catalogue and thereby invokes comparison with just about every great – and not so great – pianist who has recorded.
Some will no doubt say that we don’t really need yet another ‘Funeral March’ Sonata, but people have been saying this for the last 50 years about most of the standard repertoire and we all live in the hope that a newcomer will announce themselves as something genuinely special.
Trpčeski has a major problem to contend with – the sound. Ever since EMI mucked up Stephen Kovacevich’s Beethoven sonata cycle, both its re-mastering and new piano recordings have varied from dreadful to mediocre. This one is pretty bad. The image is too far forward – in your face would be a better description – the piano sound is harshly percussive and there is a metallic ring which extends for almost two octaves from the F above middle C. Nor is there any sense of space around the sound; digital technology is notorious for being unable to convey any sense of a venue’s acoustic, but when combined with the recording’s other failings, the combined effect is wearyingly sterile and aggressive.
Does Trpčeski’s artistry make you forget, or help you to ignore, these shortcomings? The Sonata starts at a ferocious pace, with small tempo and dynamic variations. When the second subject arrives the tempo (as is often the case) slows, whereas no change is marked in the score. But there is another problem. Chopin rarely uses either ff or fff markings in his music yet Trpčeski’s dynamic variation in the first subject encompasses forte to fff. Nor is there any use of rubato. As with many other young pianists, Trpčeski doesn’t seem to realise that you can give and take from one note to another, without changing the basic tempo. If you listen to Cortot, Horowitz or Perahia, you enter into a totally different, and superior, interpretative world.
Unfortunately there are also problems with the pedalling. Every note and chord is very clean because the sustaining pedal is largely ignored. This clarity exposes any technical problems and Trpčeski’s fingerwork is often less than even. All of this makes everything sound brutal and ultimately tiring.
Such problems continue. There is a further idiosyncrasy in the central section of the ‘Funeral March’. The tempo is very slow, and there is a suspicion that the pianist is concentrating on sound rather than structure or emotional impact. This impression is reinforced in the slow sections of the Four Scherzos, where the contrasts are often too pronounced. Once again, sentimentality rears its ugly head.
I suppose you could say that this is impetuous, vibrant Chopin – a young guy powering his way through one of the greatest of composers. But Chopin needs more subtlety than Trpčeski can offer at this stage of his career.