Daniil Trifonov’s Wigmore Hall Residency Ends with Awe-Inspiring Rachmaninov

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Rachmaninov:  Daniil Trifonov (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 9.6.2016 (RB)

Brahms:  Chaconne by JS Bach for piano left hand
Schubert:  Piano Sonata in G, D894
Brahms:  Variation on a Theme of Paganini (Book 1), Op 35
Rachmaninov:  Piano Sonata in D Minor, Op 28

This recital was the final concert in Daniil Trifonov’s widely acclaimed residency at the Wigmore Hall.  The long and typically generous programme included a range of poetic and technically demanding works from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

The recital opened with Brahms’ transcription of Bach’s great D minor Chaconne for solo violin.  Brahms said of Bach’s original work:  “Using the technique adapted to a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings”. It was perhaps because he felt the same need to limit instrumental forces that Brahms decided to transcribe the work for left hand alone.  Trifonov’s account of the work was dark, brooding and reflective.  He evoked strong, rich sonorities from his Fazioli in the opening section and did a wonderful job sustaining the line throughout.  There was an elasticity in the phrasing and subtle shifts in emphasis and ingenious use of pedal evoked Bach’s implied harmonies in a mesmerising way.  At times the performance sounded a little unrelenting and I would have liked Trifonov to have used a wider range of tempi, textures and tone colours.  However, the level of sustained concentration and control was very impressive and it was a great way to open the recital.

From Brahms we moved to Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G Major which was written in 1826 and originally published as a ‘Fantasie, Andante, Menuetto and Allegretto’.  Trifonov gave us a highly accomplished Classical account of the work.  The opening movement was exceptionally beautiful and Trifonov was attentive to the markings in the score, using a wide and varied range of dynamics.  However, it did not quite move me in the way this music can and I found myself admiring the extraordinary level of technical execution rather than really becoming emotionally involved with the work.  The opening melody of the second movement had an unadorned simplicity while Trifonov once again produced striking dynamic contrasts in the middle section.  Schubert’s surprising modulations sounded fresh and spontaneous although Trifonov’s playing did not quite plumb the emotional depths or bring out the anguish at the heart of this movement.  He seemed more comfortable in the last two movements and he appeared much more free and animated at the keyboard.  He did a brilliant job bringing out the dance elements of the Menuetto while the trio had playful intimacy.  The finale was absolutely delightful and we listened as Trifonov revealed the capricious elements of the score in an enchanting way.  The section in E Flat had a sparkling exuberance while the gorgeous melody in C minor was truly heartfelt.  Trifonov captured the songful radiance of the final section beautifully before the work drew to its tranquil conclusion.

The long first half concluded with Book 1 of Brahms’ Paganini Variations which Clara Schumann famously described as ‘Witch’s Variations’ because of the extreme level of technical difficulty.  Trifonov gave a glittering, high octane account of the work in what for me was the highlight of the first half.  The opening variations (which are both studies in sixths) coursed with energy while the passagework in the third variation was dazzling.  Trifonov brought an expressive intensity and gorgeous layering of textures to the cross rhythms of the fifth variation and panther-like reflexes to the octaves of the sixth.  Variation eleven had a rapt luminous quality as Brahms’ inner voice shone through, while the filigree silken lines in variation 12 were beautifully shaped.  The gypsy octave glissandi in variation 13 were dispatched with enormous flair while the final variation was a virtuoso tour de force, driving the set to a blistering conclusion.

In the second half Trifonov turned his attention to Rachmaninov’s rarely performed D minor Piano Sonata which was written in 1907.  This is a programmatic and highly virtuosic work based on Goethe’s Faust – the three movements are portraits of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles respectively.  For my money this was the performance of the evening with Trifonov giving what can only be described as an awe-inspiring, world class performance.  The opening fifths in the Allegro moderato first movement were hushed and meditative before being interrupted by dramatic interjections.  Rachmaninov’s swirling passagework was played with a glittering array of tone colours and deftness of touch.  The central section built to a shattering climax as Trifonov gave us an absolutely unbridled piece of turbo charged playing.

The Lento second movement is presented as though in a dream and Trifonov’s realisation of the scene was highly evocative and atmospheric.  The final section was a rapturous, ecstatic piece of playing that was absolutely gorgeous.  In the galloping finale the nefarious activities of Mephistopheles were presented with diabolical relish.   Trifonov played with a blistering sense of abandon and succeeded in summoning all the ghouls and demons of the night for the hellish orgy of Walpurgisnacht.  Trifonov is a worthy champion of this sonata and I very much hope this exceptional performance of the work will lead to many more people becoming familiar with it.

Overall, this was a superb recital from Daniil Trifonov helping to confirm his reputation as the leading pianist of his generation.  Encores were inevitable and once again he showed us his consummate skill with the left hand with a mesmerising performance of Scriabin’s Prelude for the left hand.

Robert Beattie 


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