Daniil Trifonov in Recital: Quite an Evening

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Scriabin, Liszt, Chopin:  Daniil Trifonov (piano). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 4.12.2012 (CC)

Scriabin:  Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, Op. 19, “Sonata-Fantasy”
Liszt:  Piano Sonata in B minor, S178
Chopin:  24 Préludes, Op. 28

I was first alerted to multiple prize winner Daniil Trifonov by his stunning recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto on the Mariinsky label (with Gergiev conducting; fillers are staggeringly stylish accounts of Schubert and Schumann Lieder, Tchaikovsky’s Un poco di Chopin and the Chopin Barcarolle). It was a lot to live up to, but somehow Trifonov managed it, and more with this recital. We’ve been waiting for ages for a real talent to arrive that, in addition to possessing all the technique in the world and a keen musical intellect, also demonstrates the promise to be a true great.

There are no Kissin-like airs and graces here. Trifonov walked with purposeful stride to the piano before launching into a simply gorgeous Scriabin Second Sonata. His sound is deep and full, burnished, his voicing intelligent, liquid and superbly balanced. The tender layers of sound aggregated magically as Trifonov laid the music bare. There is a hard, identifiably Russian edge to his fortes, but that is just part of his heritage and entirely apposite here, of course. The Presto finale was remarkable not just for its invocation of mystical spectres, but also for the fact that every note was audible. Some melodies here are decidedly Chopinesque (linking over the Liszt to the Preludes of the recital’s second half). Trifonov never over-projected. He was also remarkably still when he played, concentrating totally on the job in hand.

The Liszt B minor Sonata began with the same straightforward approach to the piano; Trifonov didn’t even wait for silence before launching into the bare octaves. Double octaves later revealed more of the same steely approach already touched on in the Scriabin. Clarity and precision (of almost supernatural delivery) were the watchwords of his account. Never once did the technical challenges result in compromise for these ideas. The slower passages were meltingly beautiful, at times seeming to prefigure and link over the years with passages from the slow movement of the Faust Symphony. Trifonov seemed to relish the fiendish passages, while structurally he could expertly gauge crescendi over long periods. His finger strength is remarkable, the fortes bright and glistening. As a marriage of gesture and overall structural grasp, this performance was remarkable. The performance also, alas, included surely the most unfortunately timed mobile phone “accident” in history (and I have heard a few in my time). As the music spoke mesmerically over silences, so a mobile jingle went off … and continued … and continued … until a gentleman ran out with the phone. It seemed to be the topic of conversation as people processed out to the interval, a pity since Trifonov gave so much. The end of the performance was surprisingly final, as if Trifonov wished to deny the link of the closing octaves to the beginning.

The Chopin Préludes, those masterpieces of the miniature, glistened like the 24 little jewels they are. The C major tells many stories about the pianist, but here they all concerned a tremendous sense of balance and perfect poise. The A minor was appropriately disturbing through light pedal and, like all of the slower Préludes here, a mini tone poem. The A major was proof that Trifonov can exceed the sweet and veer over into the cute (a daring ploy!); the E major was a demonstration of just how grand these pieces can be despite their concentrated time scale. In contrast, the legerdemain of the C sharp minor (No. 10) was itself a minor miracle. Trifonov can do beguiling simplicity (No. 17, A flat major) just as easily as he can do molto agitato (No. 22, G minor), Spring-like luminosity (No. 23, F major) or rock-hard doggedness (the left-hand of the final D minor Prélude). Perhaps he over-projected the right-hand – for the first and only time of the evening – in this final Prélude, but the sense of drama was all-encompassing.

Encores were inevitable, and brought a return to home turf with a Medtner Fairy Tale (A minor, exquisitely delivered) and  an astonishing rendition the “Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s Firebird (Giudo Agosti’s, I think) in which Trifonov seemed at pains to underline pointers towards Petrushka (a Trifonov Petrushka Pieces would, I suspect, be something else).

A magnificent recital. I look forward to watching this pianist grow into something special.

Colin Clarke