Daniil Trifonov Doesn’t Quite Live up to Expectations

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Schumann Daniil Trifonov (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 9.10.2013 (CC)

Stravinsky        Serenade in A
Debussy              Images I: Reflets dans l’eau; Mouvement: Animé
Ravel                     Miroirs: Noctuelles; Oiseaux tristes; Une barque sur l’océan; Alborada del gracioso
Schumann         Symphonic Studies, Op. 13 (with posthumous études)


Over the Summer, I referred to Daniil Trifonov’s “matchless pianism” in his performance of Glazunov with the LSO under Gergiev (Prom 41). Expectations were naturally high for this Wigmore concert. Perhaps too high.

The programme, given in front of a packed-out hall, was adventurous and unorthodox (especially after mysteriously cutting out the central “Hommage à Rameau” from Images I, which was promised in the programme booklet). Stravinsky, yes, but surely from multiple prizewinner superpianists we should have the Petrushka pieces? Alas no: instead, the 1925 Serenade in A in a rare outing. Clearly, this was not to be an apologetic reading: the opening gesture from the bright Fazioli piano literally left my ears ringing – and I was right at the back of the hall! Trifonov’s performance was not the most convincing, either. He just did not sound inside the music, especially in the Romanza, which just sounded disjointed. There was a nice Bachian slant to the lines of the finale which was effective, but the whole left a rather unsettled impression.

The Debussy pieces we heard fared better. “Reflets dans l’eau” was rapt, the lines well projected and the chords deeply resonant. The contrast with the rapid, even “Animé” was stark and effective. This was excellent, if not great, playing. Trifonov’s Ravel was cut from a similar cloth, especially the awe-inspiring evenness of “Une barque sur l’océan” and the sun-drenched virtuosity of “Alborada del gracioso”. Yet, despite the presence of an expectant audience all ready to be wowed, there was little of the sense of the special about the first half.

Thankfully, the performance of the Schumann helped change that, but even here there are caveats. Trifonov’s performance began with the Posthumous Étude I before delivering the theme, which in the light of this “prelude” appeared even more forbidding. The fourth and fifth posthumous Études were also added (between Variations I & II and VIII & IX respectively). Trifonov’s extra-dry staccato for the first variation worked a treat. As the performance progressed, Trifonov seemed intent on showing the sheer breadth of invention this piece demonstrates, yet he never fully relaxed. The lyrical moments were all undercut by a tension that underlay the entire edifice. The finale is marked Allegro brillante, and Trifonov left us in no doubt about the brillante part. Impetuous, certainly, this was more Schumann on speed rather than at speed. Disconcertingly brisk, this finale lacked the grandeur that it surely deserves. Yet one should acknowledge it was a young man’s performance, and one can only wait expectantly for what Trifonov could achieve when/if everything gels and maturity matches technique.

So, certainly not what might have been expected, but an intriguing evening nonetheless. The programming did not seem to play to Trifonov’s strengths, and perhaps the intent was to show a different side from the tigerish virtuoso he is usually portrayed as. If so, it only half succeeded, if that.

Colin Clarke