Simon Trpčeski Debuts at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in New York

United StatesUnited States Liszt, Schubert: Simon Trpčeski (piano), Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 27.2.2012 (SSM)

Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (after J. S. Bach)
Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 from Années de pèlerinage
Les jeux d’eaux á la Villa d’Este
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp Minor
Schubert: 16 German Dances, D. 783
Fantasy in C Major, D. 760, “Wanderer Fantasy”

A musician’s choice of what to play at a debut concert is a calling card for the audience. One might not expect an aspiring pianist at his Zankel Hall debut to play, as Jeremy Denk did, thirteen of Ligeti’s impossibly difficult Études and follow with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but one does look forward to more than virtuosic show pieces.

Simon Trpčeski’s performance revealed little about either the pianist or the composers. At times it seemed that he was on auto-pilot, his hands doing one thing, his body and mind somewhere else. During the pauses between pieces, he seemed annoyed at the few coughs from the audience and exhibited twitchy eccentricities. His manner of lifting his hands after a difficult passage or at the end of the piece was a gesture that seemed to say, “Look at me.” Was he expecting a standing ovation when he stated at one point that he is a popular star in his home country of Macedonia, but not in New York?

He is certainly a powerful pianist, reminiscent one of others such as Boris Berezovsky, Lazar Berman or Boris Berman, capable of drawing massive sounds from the keyboard. This was evident in the opening Liszt transcription of Bach’s organ version of the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. Here Trpčeski was able to impressively reproduce an organ-like sound from the Steinway, and gave listeners the impression that the pedal points were coming from the pedalboard and not the keyboard.

Tremendous energy was also shown in the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp Minor, but it was a poor choice out of the nineteen possible rhapsodies. He must be aware that the piece has been taken apart for comedic purposes by everyone from Mickey Mouse to the Marx Brothers to Mel Blanc’s singing version in “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody.”

His performance of the minor 16 German Dances of Schubert was heavy-handed and lacked the required lightness of touch that would make these throwaways listenable. Pounding the keyboard through Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy” does not produce a particularly interesting interpretation even though Trpčeski had more than the necessary dexterity to play this challenging piece. You only need to listen to Alfred Brendel’s delicate yet rhythmic performances of the Dances and sensitive and poetic playing of the Wanderer Fantasy to see what the proper approach to these works should be.

The potential is there for Trpčeski’s interpretative abilities to grow to equal his technical skills. At that point we might have an artist as popular in New York as he is now at his home.

Stan Metzger