Review: Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov
Classical Melbourne

By Glenn Riddle

There was a palpable mix of both anticipation and rare excitement in the packed foyer of the Melbourne Recital Centre on Tuesday night as pianophiles came together with piano students of all ages, as well as the elite of the Melbourne piano world. They had all come to hear arguably the finest young musician on the world stage at the moment, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.

Russian-trained, but now American-based, Trifonov captured the musical world’s attention when in a period of less than six months he won First Prize in two of the world’s major international piano competitions – the Rubinstein in Tel Aviv, followed soon thereafter by the Tchaikovsky Grand Prize in Moscow. The year prior, he’d also secured Third Prize in the Warsaw Chopin Competition, where many would have placed him higher still. To win one such competition might be considered serendipitous, and not necessarily indicative of an assured career trajectory. But successes in three such major competitions before the age of 21 is a sign of a formidable talent.

Now 26 years old, Trifonov has already forged a career performing in all the major concert halls with the cream of the world’s symphony orchestras and conductors, with no sign of waning interest in an artist who continues to deliver, both in recital and on CD. Oh, and did I mention, he composes as well! It was something of a coup for the MRC to secure Trifonov in recital, and he did not disappoint.

The recital began with a first half dedicated to the works of Robert Schumann, himself once an aspiring virtuoso, but who – fortunately for musical posterity – had a promising career curtailed by injury, thus allowing him to dedicate himself entirely to composition. Not surprisingly Schumann’s first 23 Opuses are for solo piano and it is from this group of works from the 1830s that Trifonov selected three vastly contrasting works, Kinderszenen, the Toccata, and Kreisleriana.

Conceived as reminiscences of childhood, rather than as teaching pieces for children, and before the composer married his muse ClaraWieck, (later having 8 children together), Kinderszenen contains some of the most exquisite pages of Schumann. Often deceptively easy, they require a performer who can imbue the collection of 13 miniatures with a simplicity and directness of approach that capture the optimistic essence of childhood, pensive here, rambunctious there inquisitive or simply falling asleep elsewhere.

The Toccata by contrast was perhaps the most overtly finger-busting piano piece conceived to date (1833), with its relentless double-note twistings and turnings that are unforgiving to all but the most assured techniques. Kreisleriana in many respects embodies so much that the Romantic movement represents – it is a work that wears its literary associations on its sleeve, being inspired by E.T.A Hoffman’s fictional literary creation, Johannes Kreisler, whose seemingly schizophrenic character vacillates between untamed tempestuousness and quiet reflection. A series of eight Fantasias – dedicated to Chopin no less – it presents many challenges to the performer who can too easily struggle to make a cohesive whole of the disparate musical narrative.

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