Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 (1931 Revised Version)
Sonata No.5 in F sharp, Op.53
Sonata No.6 in A, Op.82
Simon Trpceski (piano)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 27 January, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
An evening of high expectations only partially fulfilled. A – perhaps the – young pianist of the moment playing three Russian sonatas, any one of which could be counted an Everest of the piano repertoire. In the event, the result seemed to prove the maxim that “more is less”.
Trpceski has technique in spades, even in the most demanding music. Moreover even at its most thunderous, his tone seldom hardens or produces an ugly sound. Personable and blessed with film-star good-looks, he is an A & R man’s dream. Why was one’s reaction to this recital muted? Perhaps because the purely musical rewards were so limited.
Beginning with Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata is a bit of a hostage to fortune; here, it opened promisingly but all too quickly lost impetus and meandered, though the tolling bells at the movement’s climax thundered out to impressive effect. The slow movement sounded like superior bar-room music – Rachmaninov with that rich vein of melancholy stripped out leaves one curiously unmoved, whilst the Finale’s apotheosis was completely lacking in that rush of adrenaline.
Fortunately the Scriabin fared much better; this is music in which Scriabin finally fully found his own voice. Composed in a mere six days in 1907, the music eddies back and forth, full of a passionate volatility and conviction. Trpceski’s considerable technique enabled him to surmount the technical demands with ease and he conjured some magical sounds. In this music discontinuity is the order of the day, atmosphere everything, and Trpceski found its jugular (or something close to it).
Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata was altogether more problematic. Written in the backwash of the Political Purges of the 30’s, this is music with a permanent grimace – the image of Stalin’s boot repeatedly stamping on and pulverising an unknown face springs to mind. Richter, who gave the sonata its first public performance, caught its extreme violence and lurking menace. Trpceski did not. Force there undoubtedly was in the first movement’s obsessive repetitions but it all sounded academic, like a pianistic exercise rather than a life and death struggle; whilst the sarcasm of the Allegretto and the Finale’s dryly obsessive perpetuum mobile eluded him. The notes were all there, again, bit the subtext was missing. It reminded of an actor reading one of Edward Lear’s nonsense poems with a completely straight face, gloriously unaware that he is missing the point.
There were three encores, a transcription by Prokofiev of his Scherzo for four bassoons, the London premiere of an energetic piece by a Macedonian composer comprising a Prelude and Folk Dance, and Rimsky’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.