Simon Trpceski (pronounced "Terpchesky") is the 21-year-old Macedonian most people wanted to win last year's London Piano Competition. He came second, which is no disgrace, and was snapped up by an important agent, IMG, as well as the BBC, as one of Radio 3's New Generation Artists. He also got to give a Wigmore Hall recital, on Wednesday, before any of the other finalists, and it will be broadcast next year.
Trpceski is a born performer – he obviously loves playing for an audience, he has natural grace at the keyboard and a direct, friendly personality. It is no reflection on his playing throughout a solid programme, immaculately prepared, if his encores revealed, perhaps, something more personal about his character as a pianist. The first was a bravura, helter-skelter study by Stravinsky, thrown off gracefully. Then the G major Prelude and Fugue from Book Two of Bach's "48", dispatched so swiftly and delicately, it sounded like a pair of late Romantic studies. And last, a pensive little Chopin Mazurka, which showed off his fine control of the most delicate shades of "piano".
Yet Schumann's eight "Fantasiestucke", Op 12, presented him with more subtle and searching challenges. Trpceski played all the pieces remarkably straight with little rhythmic licence, and the first, "Des Abends", was so carefullyexposed, it seemed a bit analyt-ical. Yet "Aufschwung" had temperament and while strong-er dynamic contrasts would have been good in "Grillen" and "Traumes-Wirren", there was a refreshing honesty, simplicity and warmth in his approach.
He also gave a fine account of Schumann's "Etudes symphoniques", relaxing gently in the theme, not squeezing the first three too hard, then keeping momentum from the brusque, march-like fourth Etude straight into the fifth, which he skipped through fearlessly, making it a real scherzo. The neo-Baroque flourishes of the eighth Etude were splendid in their stern dignity, and the interweaving voices of the 11th precisely balanced, yet perfectly natural-sounding over the trembling accompaniment. The finale, perhaps, was just a bit on the judicious side.
The second half was all Russian, beginning with the suite Mikhail Pletnev arranged from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Pletnev plays it with a razor-sharp touch and high-camp wizardry – so personally as to be inimitable. Trpceski is a much warmer player and did the seven pieces quite perfectly, if less sensationally.
Nor, in Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata, did he chill one's innards as some have done. But he played with terrific aplomb, and brought out the bleakness of the central section of the middle movement in a way that sticks in the mind. We'll be hearing lots more of him.