Simon Trpceski and friends, Wigmore Hall, 21.1.18
We are accustomed to thinking of Simon Trpceski as a superlative pianist with a hotline to Beethoven, Brahms and the most rebarbative music of the twentieth century. On the evidence of this concert we should broaden our focus: he’s a multi-instrumentalist with a winning sound as a folk singer; he’s also a band-leader and an accomplished MC. He’d gathered five virtuosi from his native Macedonia: violinist Aleksandr Krapovski, percussionist Vlatko Nushev, cellist Alexander Somov, and clarinettist/saxophonist Hidan Mamudov who was also a master of the peasant kaval flute.
The idea was that they would induct us into the music of their homeland. Much of the concert was going to be composed (by Pande Shahov), but in the event it all felt improvised from start to finish. Initially we got standard stuff – Balkan knees-ups triple-forte – but gradually the particular musical aesthetic of this impoverished little country became discernible behind the thicket of decibels.
The rhythms were complex and irregular, and the scales were modal, sometimes operating simultaneously in keys which seemed to have nothing to do with each other. Drones provided soft carpeting for violin and cello solos; the clarinettist found a way to accompany his melodies with birdsong – exactly how, I couldn’t work out, but the effect was magical. There were stretches of jazz, but those weren’t intrusive. Bartok would have loved it all. This group should come back, and unpack their wares with more deliberation. This outing was too headlong, but it was an excellent start.