This evening of Chopin in the hands of pianist Simon Trpčeski showcased his variety, showmanship and technical prowess, and at the same time it gave evidence that could be used in the argument against showmanship.
Launching the concert was Trpčeski’s unimaginative exploration of the Four Mazurkas. Technically, every facet of his playing was steady. No ‘accidental’ accidental trampled on the fluency of chords, arpeggios and chromatic scales. But the pace was a premeditated one and entrances were timed and measured out. His approach to right-hand melodies could have been tentative and slightly mellow; his assumption of both melancholy and mercurial motifs could have been executed with more daring and inventiveness. What Trpčeski ultimately gave us was a pleasant, accurate performance. At times it captured the water drops Debussy would later on steal for his own works; at other times it stubbornly relied on the same speed and rhythm to exude not just four contrasting mazurkas but the manifestly different paragraphs inside them.
Another character took hold of his interpretation as Trpčeski embarked on the three polonaises. The acceleration of tempo was bold in the Polonaise in C sharp minor, even though certain chromatic scales were rushed. The tempo at the start of the Polonaise in E flat minor was stiff and guided by a single rudder that demanded steadiness. Often it seemed one could predict the moment his hands would slide off the keyboard. The third polonaise of the evening was a belligerent and stormy work in F sharp minor. There was an understated emphasis in the right-hand that ought to have been garnished with a sparkly and menacing nature.
It was the nocturnes that most suffered from a lack of creativity. Throughout the one in F sharp minor, Trpčeski’s handling of the morose and pain-stricken parts was both bland and strait-laced. In the even more dismal Nocturne in C Minor, a work that seems constantly to strive towards a goal in a way that is listless and frail, the essential feel of languidness was missing. In the second, faster variation of the major motif which starts off the piece, the right-hand melody lost prominence.
Chopin began to feel increasingly programmed until, all of a sudden, he and Trpčeski both became unhinged. As the performer embarked on the journey of the two scherzos, the first in B minor and the second in B flat, zig-zag melodies brought out his spontaneity. His fingers strolled around the keys with the agility of spiders’ legs; the jumpy, rapid chords were blazingly aglow. Glissandi were exuded gorgeously and it was suddenly apparent that Trpčeski could insert both humour and a set of dazzling circus-like effects into his playing. Yet what we heard through Chopin’s scherzos could less easily be termed an ‘interpretation’ than it could be called a ‘jazzy version’. It was a well-fashioned, smoothly ejected performance. It was also somewhat ‘jazz n’ blues’, overtly showy and a dozen miles away from Chopin.
The encores most brought out Trpčeski’s flair, including a dainty rendition of one of the Three Écossaises. But it was his performance of the Prelude No. 24 in D Minor which really plunged us into Chopin. Finally, something projected mellifluousness. The left-hand was especially tempestuous and the exchange between the left and right hands demonstrated the tension and struggle at the core of the work.
Overall Trpčeski’s playing rode a swerving gradient. At times it was too carefully premeditated, bland and flat. In the other instances, it was most entertainingly flamboyant. Unfortunately Chopin is a vast array of manifold components. Gaudiness is only one of them.