By R.M. Campbell
Gerard Schwarz has long had an affinity for French music, thus a program like the one that opened Thursday night and continues through Sunday afternoon at Benaroya Hall.
There were many pleasures along the way. Principal among them was the reading of Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto by Simon Trpceski. Now, in full possession of an international career, the Macedonian musician is not a stranger to Seattle. He was introduced to the city via the Seattle Symphony Orchestra when he was still in his 20s (turning 30 last year) and has returned both as a soloist with the orchestra and as a recitalist at Meany Hall. His concerts are typically well-received.
By now Trpceski’s virtues are known. His technical resources are huge and his musicianship bold and lyrical simultaneously. He is a bravura musician but his bravado, which can be exhilarating, is never empty-handed. It is always in service to the music at hand. In the wrong hands the Saint-Saens can seem mindless and charmless. With Trpceski, it was poignant, sunny, amusing, thrilling. He plays with immense authority but it, too, is always in service to the music. Even in the most romantic passages, Trpceski makes no attempt to seduce the listener with pretty effects. The beauty of the passage is always marked with wit or solemnity or sheer beauty. There is never a hint of ham. In the slow movement, there was tenderness and warmth of tone. The fast passagework was exciting for its speed and accuracy. Inevitably people stood to show their appreciation. For once, it was deserved. He returned the favor by playing a small work, “In Struga,” somewhat in the style of Bartok, by Pande Shahov, one of his countrymen. Trpceski returns to Seattle February 16 at Meany Hall.
Two of the most famous pieces in the French repertory opened the first and second halves: Debussy’s “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faun” and Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunte.” Both exhibited similar traits of shifting textures and sensuous tunes. The Debussy had the advantage of having principal flutist Scott Goff play the major solo with his silver tome that is seductive and beautiful. One can imagine Vaslav Nijinskiy dancing to it a century ago. Schwarz never let the Ravel, with its exotic melodies, turn into something fake and overdone. Whether or not, the work is in fact a lament, as the title suggests, Schwarz kept a cool that made the impact of the music drama even more potent.
The evening ended with Ernest Chauson’s B-flat Major Symphony. This late 19th-century composer, who died young, at 44, was often unsure of his talent. His only symphony was premiered in Paris in 1891, eight years before his death. Some people despise the work, I think unjustly, but while others admire its long, beautifully arched phrases. His attempts at poetry can turn to swollen prose, but, that said, they can possess at times moments of lyric grandeur. It is not often performed with reason, but it good to hear it once in awhile.
The entire evening was one of superb playing by the SSO musicians.