Pianist Daniil Trifonov, 2 gold medals in hand, delivers an Olympian recital at Orchestra Hall
Review: Daniil Trifonov, winner of the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions in 2011, played works by Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Schumann on Sunday afternoon.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Photos by Todd Rosenberg
It was an Event, the recital by 22-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov on Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall. While the ascent of this phenomenal musician has been meteoric since he won both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions in 2011, the artist himself is no meteor. Trifonov is more like a midsummer’s morning sun. He’s going to be with us, his zenith yet to be observed, for a long time.
This was my third time hearing Trifonov in the last year or so, and each encounter has been ear-opening, not to say mind-blowing – much like the youthful revelations of Horowitz, Rubinstein and Richter must have been for an earlier generation. I heard Trifonov first in his autumn 2012 debut with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall playing Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, then a few weeks later with the Chicago Symphony in the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor. The latter only confirmed the staggering impression of the former.
But the pianist’s recital here afforded both a more personal and a more rounded view of a musician whose technical prowess is like breathing out and breathing in and – frankly, what’s more remarkable – an artist whose insight, sophistication, confidence and originality far exceed his years.
In a program ranging from neo-Classical, albeit obscure Stravinsky to core Debussy and Ravel and finally a Schumann extravaganza, Trifonov demonstrated at once the quality of his training, the breadth of his musical sensibilities and the command of his intellect.
Stravinsky’s paradoxically titled Serenade in A – it is neither what one usually thinks of as a serenade, nor is it really in the key of A major – immediately put on joint display Trifonov’s formidable technical facility and his grasp of structure. In the interior chapters of this four-movement work from 1925, Trifonov offered a fetching take on Stravinsky’s quirky Romanza and lit up the house with a prodigious toccata dubbed by the composer, with wry understatement, Rondoletto.
From Debussy’s “Images,” Book I, Trifonov provided scintillating accounts of “Reflets dans l’eau” and “Mouvement.” The former streamed forth in a gossamer-like performance that shimmered and sparkled in its tiny, ceaseless undulations. To “Mouvement,” the pianist brought incisive attacks and virile rhythms evocative of that ripping toccata in Stravinsky’s Serenade.
Four episodes from Ravel’s “Mirroirs” showed Trifonov to be a fine-brush miniaturist, patient with detail and imaginative in his choice of hues. “Noctuelles” and “Oiseaux tristes” contrasted flitting agility and crisp phases with ruminative melancholy and arching lines. In both the bob and roll of “Une barque sur l’ocean” and the pulsing merriment of “Alborada del gracioso,” the pianist summoned the energy as well as the shadings of a symphony orchestra.
The program’s second half also dealt with miniatures: the brief, multifarious, virtuosic flights that form Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. In modulating from French Impressionism to German Romanticism, Trifonov also shifted from largely reflective music to the most overt kind of display pieces – a turn that produced one dazzling delight after another.
The Symphonic Etudes are technical studies in variation form, not unlike Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. But Schumann didn’t label these prestidigital bursts as “symphonic” for nothing. For all their individual brevity, in Trifonov’s hands they swept the keyboard in grand-scaled flourishes, each variation coming close on the heels of the last to create a majestic, indeed electrifying whole: a pyrotechnical display brilliant, impulsive, showering, bravura.
So concluded Trifonov’s program, but not his performance. He answered rhapsodic applause with four encores – the Chopin Preludes, Op. 28, Nos. 16 and 17; Medtner’s “Fairy Tale” in B-flat minor (a shadowy narrative in the vein of Rachmaninoff) and the whirlwind scherzo from his own Piano Sonata. Yes, he’s a composer, too.
Trifonov returns to Orchestra Hall next season to play Rachmaninoff’s rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Semyon Bychkov in April 2015. Seems like a ticket one would want to have.