Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 23rd September, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra




  • Sibelius Finlandia, 8′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3, 44′
  • Nielsen Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable), 36′


Simon Trpčeski’s encore with Eduardo Vassallo –

Rachmaninov Cello Sonato – Third Movement


“Music is life,” declared Carl Nielsen, “and like it, inextinguishable.” And from volcanic opening to final life-and-death battle, Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony is one of those pieces that you just have to hear live. Birmingham audiences need no introduction to the fabulous Simon Trpčeski, in the grandest of romantic piano concertos, but this should be a powerful debut for conductor Cristian Măcelaru.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Rachmaninoff once wrote that he conceived the first theme of the Third Concerto as something to be sung by the piano, and that’s exactly how it came across. It helped, of course, that Simon Trpčeski was the soloist. Trpčeski’s artistry is ripening gloriously: the energy, the clarity of touch and brilliance of articulation are as electrifying as ever, but his youthful flamboyance has evolved into a masterly calm and assurance at the keyboard. No histrionics here: cool as iced vodka, Trpčeski at one point reached casually into his pocket, unfolded a handkerchief and dabbed at his brow while the tutti swept by on all sides.

Meanwhile Măcelaru drew seldom-heard colours from the orchestral part: a distant glint of Russian nationalist jewellery in the finale’s col legno passage; and meltingly soft horns in the transition out of the first movement’s epic cadenza – which drew from Trpčeski, in turn, an exquisite tenderness of tone. I’ve heard more spectacular performances of this concerto, but rarely a more musical one.

Eduardo VassalloFor an encore, Trpčeski beckoned to the CBSO’s principal cello Eduardo Vassallo (pictured left by Upstream Photography) , and together they played the gentle third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. Trpčeski always takes care over his encores (on one occasion assembling an impromptu Macedonian folk band), but this felt particularly intimate. Its appropriateness, and Trpčeski’s eagerness to share his applause, spoke volumes for his priorities as both artist and human being. 

Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony looked on paper like a rather more severe test for Măcelaru – not because in this anniversary year, we’ve heard it too many times (as if!), but because the CBSO has a Nielsen tradition dating back through Oramo and Rattle to Harold Gray’s cycle (the UK’s first) in the 1960s. All the more impressive, then, that he managed to say something distinctive about the piece from the very outset – and without any overt point-making or micromanagement.”     …


Review by David Fanning, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “Trpčeski is one of the most bankable assets for the big concerto repertoire. His first movement cadenza was rock-solid, his scherzando episode in the slow movement scintillating in its clarity, and his entire finale a demonstration-quality display of pianistic fireworks. Through all this Măcelaru steered the accompaniment with close attention to balance and a near-telepathic sense of ensemble.

If there were still a few throwaway phrases from Trpčeski, and even some near-crossing of the line into jazzy nonchalance, those things were amply compensated for by the sweep and authority of his playing. His encore – a dreamy account of the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata with the CBSO’s Eduardo Vassallo – was an inspired initiative.

The second half was given over to Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony – The Inextinguishable. This may be the Dane’s best-known work, and the most direct in its impact thanks to its timpani duels in the finale. But it covers an enormous amount of ground in its 35 minutes, and can feel episodic unless the conductor keeps a firm grip on the structure.

Never tempted to over-react to passages of violent disruption, or, at the other extreme, to exaggerate the score’s repeated requests for calm, Măcelaru placed the climaxes with unerring instinct and led into and away from them with consummate skill.”     …


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The central focus of the evening was not the post-interval symphony, but the first-half concerto. Simon Trpčeski walked out onto the stage with an air of supreme confidence. It was clear before a single note was played that he was here to enjoy himself, and through his composure he forged a connection with the audience that relaxed the hall even while he adjusted his stool. Sympathetically supported by the orchestra, his first notes teased the ear, hinting the theme, seducing the audience to fully engage with the music. Rachmaninov is famous for his long flowing lyrical lines and they require some deep interpretation to make them come off. As a virtuoso pianist himself, he was renowned for the exceptional technical demands of his compositions. Trpčeski was equal to both the musicality and the technique required, his fingers whirling, hammering, tickling, skipping and skating over the keyboard at his whim. The CBSO accompanied with some lush romantic strings. There were moments, however, where I felt they slightly overpowered the soloist. Nonetheless, I was able to immerse myself in the sheer joyous drama of the piece, so well played by Trpčeski, and by the conclusion I was quite elated.

Indeed, Trpčeski seemed to have anticipated the effect he had had on the audience and followed up with an unprogrammed but no-so-impromptu musical treat in a recital of Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (the third movement). Ably rising to the challenge of playing alongside Trpčeski was CBSO principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo. The playing was delightful and serene, providing calm after the drama of the concerto that was just right for leading into the interval.    […]

[…]      Reflecting afterwards on the concert I could not help but think about the differences in this generation. Măcelaru clearly understood all three in real depth and was able to bring something new and insightful to all of them, particularly the Nielsen symphony. But the lasting memory of the night for me will be the golden touch of pianist Simon Trpčeski in what was a truly tremendous display of virtuosic artistry.”


Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

Click here for full review

…     “Macelaru was not a showy presence but assured, steady and thoughtful, capable of letting the music breathe and tell its own story. His Sibelius Finlandia opened with a heavy tread, but was confidently steered to its triumphant end. And if Nielsen’s The Inextinguishable lacked that final crackle of electricity, it was still bold and compelling.

Each section of the CBSO gleamed: the strings meticulous and intense, with particularly gutsy violas, the wind sensitive and the brass glorious. And in the final movement, the duelling timpanists were wonderfully exhilarating – surely the embodiment of what Nielsen wanted this music to express, “the Elemental Will of Life”.


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