Masterful Rachmaninoff from Simon Trpčeski

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rachmaninoff, Simon Trpčeski (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mikhail Agrest (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London. 15.2.2013 (CD)

Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

This double helping of Rachmaninoff should have been conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, but illness forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by the Russian-born American conductor, Mikhail Agrest. Agrest may not be a particularly familiar figure on the London concert scene but he does have an impressive pedigree, being associated with the Mariinsky Theatre since 2001. So it promised to be interesting to hear how he would fare in this all-Rachmaninoff programme. Simon Trpčeski, the soloist in the Rachmaninoff Third concerto, needs little introduction having established a fine reputation both in the concert hall and on disc.

The opening of the concerto felt slightly low-key, and both the balance and the ensemble were less than completely ideal, but as the first movement progressed the performance gained assurance with some nice wind solos. The Intermezzo : Adagio had a beautiful clarinet solo introduction and the finale quickly caught fire and built to a thrilling climax.

Trpčeski’s playing throughout brought seemingly effortless mastery to this hugely demanding piece, but his virtuosity was always at the service of the music rather than being, in any sense, for show. There was inwardness and stillness when needed alongside the powerful and forceful playing that the concerto demands. An outstanding effort from Trpčeski.

The encore was ‘An evening tale’ by Khachaturian, introduced by Trpčeski as a short, sweet (and slightly belated) Valentine’s Day present.

Agrest brought drive and sweep to the symphony in a performance that, whilst never feeling rushed, always avoided the temptation to wallow in Rachmaninoff’s luxurious melodies. The Allegro Moderato of the first movement set the approach for the whole symphony which had plenty of forward momentum but with moments of relaxation and nicely handled rubato. Just occasionally it did feel as though more could have been made of some of the beauties of Rachmaninoff’s writing. The Allegro Molto was similarly dynamic with strongly accented rhythms and some nicely inflected playing from the LPO violins.

The opening of the Adagio brought some lush playing from the LPO strings along with a sweet-toned and nicely shaped clarinet solo from Nicholas Carpenter. The whole movement had a sense of longing and inwardness that worked extremely well even if it missed some of the grandeur of this music. The start of the finale felt a little underpowered and had one awkward tempo transition, but the movement soon built up momentum with some wonderful playing from the LPO strings. The climax of the movement brought a great sense of triumph and celebration that felt entirely apt.

The LPO played well throughout although wind and brass were sometimes not ideally blended (possibly a symptom of Agrest’s late substitution) and there were a few instances of questionable ensemble. None of this should detract from a highly successful programme, however, and on this form I certainly look forward to hearing more of Agrest in the future.

Carl Dowthwaite