Daniil Trifonov : Competition Winner Draws Crowds and Cheers at Wigmore Debut

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Chopin: Daniil Trifonov (piano), Wigmore Hall, London. 14.3.2012 (RB)

Schubert/Liszt: Two Songs
Schubert: Sonata in B flat major, D960
Tchaikovsky: Four Pieces
Chopin: Études, Op 10

Last year Daniil Trifonov won both the Rubinstein competition in Tel Aviv and the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, and in the process he won rapturous acclaim from some of the world’s greatest pianists. This Wigmore Hall recital was the Rubinstein competition prizewinner’s concert and there were clearly great expectations about this young man (still only 20), as evidenced by the queue of people waiting for returns at the box office.

Trifonov opened the recital with 2 Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs. Fruhlingsglaube had an easy lyrical charm and Trifonov showed that he has a gift for making the piano sing. There was an immediate contrast with Liszt’s transcription of Die Stadt where Trifonov captured the dark, searing intensity of the piece.

Trifonov went without a break into Schubert’s great final piano sonata in B flat, one of the most beautiful and poetic works in the whole of the piano repertoire and a bold and daring choice for such a young pianist. It is always difficult to strike the right balance between the classical and romantic elements in Schubert, but Trifonov opted for a very romantic interpretation with a lot of rich colour and pedal. The opening movement, marked molto moderato, opened in a very low key way and it was clear that Trifonov was focusing on vocal projection of Schubert’s wonderful melodies and on layering of sound. He was able to summon the most extraordinary dynamic range and orchestral sonorities from his Fazioli, which is important for Schubert where extreme dynamic markings are scattered throughout the score. On occasion some of the fortissimo passages sounded a little harsh and seemed to distort the character of the piece. The andante sostenuto had a rapt, lyrical beauty and again Trifonov was able to layer textures in a way which allowed Schubert’s melodies to soar. The scherzo had the requisite light charm that it needs with Trifonov alive to subtle harmonic and dynamic shifts within the score. In the trio he underscored the syncopations in a way which was interesting but made the music sound disjointed. The finale was again full of layered textures and orchestral sonorities with some interesting inner and bass voices being brought out. The fortissimo passages and the coda were again a little brash for my taste although there is an argument for playing the piece in this way given Schubert’s extreme dynamic markings. Overall, I thought this was a fascinating and innovative performance but I would have preferred a more classical interpretation with less pedal and more sustained beauty of tone. This is a work to which Trifonov could usefully return at a later point in his career.

I was interested to read in the programme notes that Trifonov is a composer as well as a pianist. In the four Tchaikovsky pieces which opened the second half (the ‘valse sentimentale’ as well as three character pieces from Op 72), he played in a very free and spontaneous way and brought to life numerous musical details within the score. There was some vivid characterisation in the Op 72 pieces and a rich range of colouring which reminded me of Pletnev’s playing (another previous winner of the Tchaikovsky competition).

The recital ended with Chopin’s 12 études from Op 10 where Trifonov showed us his virtuoso credentials. He was alive to the musical and poetic aspects of these works and turned each of the études into miniature tone poems. The C major arpeggio étude which opened the set was played extremely fast and Trifonov seemed to find the dramatic arc of this work and brought out a rich range of expressive dynamics. The A minor étude was again very fast and feathery light and there was some elegant shaping of the line. The famous E major étude was played in a very unaffected way and the gorgeous melody unfolded naturally and spontaneously. The C sharp minor was again extremely fast and full of demonic power and vivid tonal contrasts. The ‘Black Key’s’ study was airy and light and Trifonov brought out some of the lyricism in the inner parts, while the E flat minor chromatic étude was played in a free and spontaneous way with the intricate modulations unfolding seamlessly and naturally.

The études seemed to get better and better as Trifonov went along and he seemed to relish the opportunity to bring out new musical details in each of these pieces and to view them in a fresh and original way. The C major double note étude was light and elegant with wonderful rhythmic buoyancy in the central section while the F major étude was tightly controlled and played with amazing digital dexterity. Trifonov brought out the multi-faceted elements in the F minor left hand étude from the brooding melancholy of the opening, the soaring intensity in the central section and the wistful melancholy of the ending. The A flat étude had a wonderful vitality and propulsion (although I thought Trifonov could have made more of the gorgeous modulations) while the penultimate étude was soft grained and luminous. In the final ‘Revolutionary étude’ which closes the set, Trifonov really caught fire and he played in a powerful and uninhibited way which brought the house down.

Trifonov treated the Wigmore audience to five encores: transcriptions of Schumann, Bach, Strauss and Mussorgsky and a Chopin waltz. In the über-virtuosic transcription of Die Fledermaus, he seemed to throw his entire technical arsenal at the piano and had the whole of the Wigmore Hall audience on their feet.

An auspicious start from a rising star in the piano firmament.

Robert Beattie