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On Good Friday, the clouds parted, revealing the first full moon after the vernal equinox, certainly fitting circumstances to celebrate with a piano recital. This time, in Brevard's Porter Center for the Performing Arts, it was Simon Trpceski, from the Republic of Macedonia, and he had three things on his mind. First, he wished everyone a happy Easter, even though it is celebrated two weeks later in his country. Second, he dedicated his "first recital in Brevard" to his father, on the occasion of his father's birthday. Here, the audience voiced its approval. Finally, he went to work on the house Steinway Grand to demonstrate the current status of the "hot new young pianist."
Well, he's age 29. That's not considered "young" any more, is it?
No matter, his credentials are a mile long, and it's all the same stuff we read about in all the others – just the names and places are different – and we should accept on faith that if he's managed by IMG Artists and records for EMI Classic's then he must be, you know, good.
Okay, but the program is Debussy, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov. I was hoping for something a little more on the ... — oh, never mind.
Opening with Debussy's Le Coin De L'Enfance, L.113, Trpceski quickly went to work on the whole "major artist" thing with a convincing romp through the first movement's arpeggios. His touch is light, yet his message is clear when he needs to be heard. The entire work had unity under his vision and, as we would soon learn, it was sixteen minutes of, basically, warm-up material.
He followed with the four-movement "Grandmother's Tales," Op. 31, of Prokofiev, and ended the first half with Prokofiev's Toccata, Op. 11. The later is notable for many cross references to Liszt' B minor Sonata and the "Allegro Barbero" of Bartók. There was an ever present pitch, just as in the Liszt, but the whole piece had the feel of a perpetual motion machine in the same way as the Bartók. Both continue to drive toward a climatic end and eventually make thunder. 'Twas all very nicely executed with a forte that doesn't drive the string to distortion and plenty of dynamic change to keep the events fresh.
Following intermission we heard a set of Rachmaninov, mixing preludes with character pieces. There were five: "Lilacs," Op. 21, No. 5; Prelude, Op. 32, No. 12; "Daisies," Op. 38, No. 3; then concluding with two preludes, Op. 3, No. 2, in C-sharp minor, and Op. 23. No. 5, in G minor, a brutally difficult work reduced to child's play in Trpceski's hands. The program concluded with Prokofiev again, the Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83. Here is another work one doesn't just simply toss off, and there are plenty of thorny tunes to clarify.
Trpceski is a remarkable musician in that he is clearly thoughtful about his process. It is clear he wants the thing you hear to be the thing he intended, and it must work under a variety of circumstances and instruments, so he has moderated his technique to leave room for change, from concert to concert, and that fountain of capacity leaves a clear image in the ear. It may be different tomorrow, and perhaps it should be. If nothing else, musicians should be allowed to change their minds.
The bad news is I never had the feeling he was completely in the Grand Musical Moment. It was as though he was so busy managing all the variables of all the moments he was never able to sail off into that artist space where reality is suspended and technique serves, however temporarily, the liquid fantasy of illusion.
Yes, I know. That's asking a lot. I wanted to see the lid shaking, I wanted to hear some Bach, and I wanted to hear some Barber or Ginastera. Alas, all we got was a tastefully rendered program of main-line piano repertoire by big-shot composers from an artist with impeccable control and dazzling interpretive skills.