Trifonov in a Jamboree of Overwhelming Tonal Splendor

United StatesUnited States Rachmaninoff, Bartók: Daniil Trifonov (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra/ Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 15.4.2018. (BJ)

Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30
Bartók – Concerto for Orchestra Sz.116

‘I look forward to hearing him again in repertoire for which he may feel more vividly sympathetic’ was what I wrote after hearing a decent but unmemorable performance of Mozart’s K.271 Concerto by Daniil Trifonov last year. I am delighted to be able to report that the Philadelphia Orchestra management had already arranged for that to happen, and that the result fully justified the young pianist’s star status.

Whereas in Mozart I found him ‘seemingly content merely to play the notes without contributing much in the way of personal insight into their meaning as music’, Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto drew from Trifonov an abundance of involvement in the composer’s emotional and often passionately dramatic intensity. There was a moment, no more, of what may have been nervousness in his initial statement of the main theme, causing one or two relatively unimportant notes to stand out unduly from the line, but from that point onward the soloist delivered a performance that fully matched the quality of the two finest among previous accounts of the work that I have encountered in concert—by Alexis Weissenberg back around 1970, and just a couple of years ago by Barry Douglas.

It’s good to know that this performance was being recorded live. With the orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s equally committed direction playing its collective heart out, their riveting collaboration rose to climaxes as richly and overwhelmingly sonorous as any I have experienced in this or any other hall, and the performance of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra that followed after intermission matched it for sheer sonic impact. The music director’s conception of the work revealed, as his conducting often does, a fresh approach to familiar aspects of the score.

The most striking example of this came with the second movement. It is common knowledge that, in the published score, the movement is titled ‘Giuoco delle coppie’, meaning ‘Game [or Play] of the Couples’. The conversations between the instruments in the various orchestral sections  are usually performed in a restrained and urbane manner, mostly in a steady tempo, and I have had a lot of fun over the years listening to the movement played that way. But Nézet-Séguin took an altogether freer view. This time, it was full of vividly mercurial cut and thrust, so that the ‘game’ element was given much more — and more entertaining — prominence. He also fashioned, with strong dramatic effect, a segue straight from this movement to the following ‘Elegia’; and in the fourth movement, the ‘Interrupted Intermezzo’, the satirical orchestral raspberry, or ‘Bronx cheer’, that constitutes the interruption was thrown, or rather blown, at us with exceptionally emphatic hilarity.

As with the Philadelphia Voices premiere heard on the previous week’s program, I am again disinclined to single out individual players for praise in a work of such fundamentally ensemble character, since that would inevitably result in a mere catalogue listing, but it would be an excess of consistency not to acknowledge principal timpanist Don S. Liuzzi’s superb playing in passages both loud and soft. Suffice it to say that all concerned covered themselves with glory, so that the entire concert amounted to a jamboree of positively overwhelming tonal splendor.

Bernard Jacobson

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