Notes and Editorial Reviews
DANIIL TRIFONOV: The Carnegie Recital
Daniil Trifonov (pn)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 1728 (78:48) Live: Carnegie Hall, New York 2/5/2013
Piano Sonata in b.
Piano Sonata No. 2.
Even though he had already made a considerable splash with victories at the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein Competitions in 2011, Daniil Trifonov was barely old enough for a legal champagne celebration following his 2013 Carnegie debut, a concert documented on this disc. Another super-virtuoso whiz kid? Well, there’s no denying either his virtuosity or his endurance. Not many pianists would include
the Liszt Sonata and the full run of Chopin Preludes on the same program, much less one opening with the Scriabin Second—and the technique is nearly flawless from first to last. But there’s nothing callow in the playing. Fresh, spontaneous, even youthful—yes; but it would be hard to find evidence of immaturity.
What strikes me most about this recital is its expressive range. From the opening measures of the Scriabin, with their prismatic teasing of dynamics and rhythm, you know that you’re in the hands of someone who refuses to announce a clear interpretive itinerary at the start. Rather, he gives us superbly eventful playing, full of twists and turns, always ready to cast an unexpected light on a detail, to give some new balance to the contrapuntal lines, or to provide an unexpected dash of color. I don’t mean to suggest that the playing is willful, much less self-aggrandizing: Trifonov is a subtle artist, and he’s more interested in gentle surprises than in whiplash shocks. But his readings certainly are highly personal.
Certainly, his Liszt is liable to throw you off balance. For the opening three and a half minutes, up through the first statement of the
theme (through which he pushes feverishly), he seems to promise us an angular, biting, Modernist interpretive spin—an unrelenting, even cruel, reading that stresses momentum rather than harmony, brittleness rather than sensuality. Yet it doesn’t work out that way: In the end, this performance is notable as much for its gentle inwardness as for its rancor, as much for its generous splashes of pre-Impressionist color as for its moments of granitic solidity (try the return of the
theme at mm. 297 ff.), as much for its delicacy of utterance (try the breathtakingly peaceful ending) as for its volcanic eruptions.
Of course, such eventfulness necessarily comes at the expense of formal rigor, and I suspect that some listeners prefer the sonata with a bit more unity. Still, I found the improvisatory spirit captivating from first to last—and I found the Chopin (which, of course, has more built-in variety to begin with) even better. On the whole, despite moments that will knock you out (listen to No. 22), it’s a slightly soft-spoken account. Highlights? I could, I suppose, single out the supple, surprisingly old-fashioned charm of the First Prelude, the unbuttoned lift of the Third, the terrifyingly controlled fury of the 12th, the velvet tone on No. 13 (especially on the B section). But the fact is that what we get here is a rare performance
highlights, one in which every prelude is given a chance to speak in its own voice. The Scriabin is just as remarkable, boasting a luminous fluidity that takes your breath away. The choice of Medtner as an encore (at the concert, apparently, he also played Bach-Rachmaninoff and Agosti’s arrangement of the “Danse infernale” from
) is but another reminder that he’s not a conventional contest-winner. Fine sound, too. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Remember when a Carnegie Hall recital debut used to be a rite of passage? Now it’s a media event, tied in with a major-label release and heightened expectations. Consider Daniil Trifonov, who not only gave his February 5, 2013 debut with Deutsche Grammophon’s recording equipment in tow, but also played repertoire sufficiently represented in the label’s catalog. If Trifonov felt any pressure, one doesn’t hear it. He’s as assured and fearless a pianist as they come, blessed with 10 of the most agile fingers on the planet. Granted, he tends to sacrifice power for sheer speed, yet his tone is consistently beautiful, abetted by a wide palette of articulations, nuances, and inner voices.
Trifonov ‘s musicianship has ripened over the past years, although he remains a work-in-progress in certain respects. The Scriabin Second Sonata’s opening movement, for example, is pretty on the surface yet small-scaled in comparison to Yuja Wang’s more firmly etched polyphony and Ivo Pogorelich’s weightier harmonic projection and overall sensuality. Trifonov zooms through the perpetual motion finale, running a few traffic lights here and there as he focuses on the right hand.
The Liszt Sonata is physically thrilling, especially in the octave department, yet also full of gaucheries like “reverse accents” (what old timers used to call sudden diminuendos for the sake of sudden diminuendos) and unsubtle kickstart sforzandos. Long crescendos can suddenly back away at the end of a phrase rather than build to their inevitable conclusion. Among DG Liszt sonatas from young pianists, I prefer Yundi’s equally assured and fluent yet better-unified version.
The Chopin Op. 28 Preludes contain marvelous moments, such as No. 1’s rocking lilt; the daring pedal effects that illuminate No. 2’s still startling dissonances; No. 5’s fanciful cross-rhythmic accentuation; a truly “semplice” and direct No. 7; a fleet and transparent No. 17; No. 8’s tenor voice more to the fore than usual (to say nothing of the breathtaking tempo and control); and an unusually slow yet intriguingly multi-leveled No. 23. Few other performances of No. 22 articulate the undulating push/pull effect between the jabbing left-hand octaves and slurred right-hand chords.
Less convincing are No. 3’s glibly rattled-off (albeit staggeringly executed) left-hand 16th-note runs, an introspective to the point of wilting No. 13, plus the pianist’s seemingly habitual pulling back at the top of No. 24’s building upward scales. Like Argerich, Trifonov telegraphs some of No. 16’s treacherous runs in the heat of the moment.
However, for unambiguously great pianism on a Golden Age level (and that goes for legends of the 2010s as much as those from the 1920s!), check out the Medtner Op. 26 No. 2 Fairy Tale encore. Trifonov’s breathtakingly supple passagework and repeated notes take wing with little aid from the sustain pedal. In short, Trifonov’s Carnegie Recital represents a solid advance over this pianist’s previous recordings, and in the main justifies his recent popularity with audiences and critics.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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