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Daniil Trifonov, pianist
Feathers and Pearls: A Recital by Daniil Trifonov
By Gary Lemco
WITH THE FINAL CHORDS of his third encore—Rachmaninoff’s dazzling transcription of the Gavotte from Bach’s E Major Violin Partita—-pianistic phenomenon Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) finally yielded to fatigue after a marathon concert at the Carriage House Theatre at Montalvo Art Center, Saturday night, February 18, in Saratoga, California. A pupil of Tatiana Zelikman at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music, the young virtuoso already could claim a Gold Medal in the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition and First Prize and Gold Medal at the 13th Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, but hearing him in person confirmed the many superlatives that this artist bears with humble but undeniable dignity.
The feathery aspect of Trifonov’s intimate touch at the keyboard made its effect immediately, with Schubert Frühlingsglaube in the Liszt transcription. Keyboard accuracy is one thing, an admirable quality, certainly; but Trifonov brings a maturity of style and structural balance that belie his relative youth. And in the course of the evening, one searched in vain for any pedal effects that explain the elasticity and subtle nuance his fingers alone achieve, a throwback, an atavism, to the wizardry and pearls we long ago ascribed to Gieseking, Friedman, Lhevinne, and Rosenthal. The second piece by Schubert, “Die Stadt” from the Schwanengesang “cycle,” hurled us into an eerie, hallucinatory space that made its appearance again after intermission, in Debussy’s “Reflets dans l’eau” from his Images, Book I. Even more impressive—despite a minor memory lapse—was “Hommage a Rameau,” in which occasional melodic scraps from Suite Bergamasque could be heard in the alchemical mix of plainchant and French chanson. “Mouvement,” with oriental whirls and dervishes, moved with lithe, light pools of color and rhythmic momentum toward a preconceived end, a spectacular display of unvaried, internal pulse.
But back to the first half, concluded by the epic Schubert B-flat Sonata, D. 960, certainly a formidable work for the most seasoned performer. Trifonov’s proved a most Apollinian approach, long on phrases and pearly in the note articulation. Curiously, the internal motion of the first movement Molto moderato did not dally; and despite the “heavenly length” of the movement, its nostalgic approach to thematic unity and “loss” never dragged. Particularly effective, the Andante sostenuto, which utilizes motifs from the first movement, allowed Trifonov’s natural singing line full expression; and again, his fluency and forward-motion resisted any false sentimentality. The last two movements may have called more attention to Trifonov’s brilliance as a performer than to the music itself, but those brisk figures in both movements passed on dragonfly wings and harps of the innate sympathy with Schubert’s idiosyncratic melancholy.
Prior to the first two encores—Trifonov’s own arrangement of themes from the J. Strauss II operetta Der Fledermaus, in an explosive treatment that surpasses Godowsky’s imaginative fancy; and the E-flat Grande Waltz Brillante, Op. 18 of Chopin—Trifonov bestowed us an unforgettable traversal of Chopin’s Op. 10 Etudes, replete with poetry and bravura at every turn. Superlatives become relatively meaningless, but this listener heard some of the finest renditions in his musical memory of the No. 1 in C Major, the E-flat Minor, and the F Minor; not to mention a perfect “Butterfly” Etude that literally wafted that magic dust that makes it airborne. Some extol the No. 11 in E-flat Major as “having belonged” to Josef Lhevinne; but Trifonov consumed its stretches and regurgitated pure aesthetics, intervals and mathematics become high art. By the time Trifonov concluded with the nationalistic “Revolutionary” C Minor Etude, the audience, perhaps skeptics wary of “wunderkinds” for whom the golden “wonder” too easily dissolves into lead, had been converted into adherents by a young virtuoso whose future in music appears unlimited. ♫
Dr. Gary R. Lemco contributes regularly to
Classical Music Guide. He resides in California.
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