Friday, 5 October 2012

Daniil Trifonov

Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto is an old warhorse. It's also a very good piano concerto when played well, with an opening that is dramatic, and as memorable as the opening of Beethoven's G major piano concerto. I listened to it yesterday evening played by Daniil Trifonov (born 1991) accompanied by Valery Gergiev, with the Mariinsky Orchestra recorded in the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St. Petersburg. In one word: stupendous. Trifonov has power when needed, and poetic musing when needed. He does not try to “wow” us with his playing. He brings out all aspects of Tchaikovsky's work, the lyrical as well as the grandiose. This is some 21 year old!

The Russians seem to be well over-quota when it comes to producing world-class pianists and violinists. Trifonov makes me question, once again, whether it is necessarily true that artists give better performances when they mature, as maintained by conventional wisdom. Young artists can come to a work with fresh eyes; they also have reputations to build and establish. Older artists can fray a bit after playing the same work 200 times in public, and often no longer have a need to establish a reputation, but just to appear on stage and to play a work without making a mess of it.

This remarkable performance (of a remarkable work) also reinforces my feeling that nationalism does have a role in musical performance. In the current traversal of Tchaikovsky, the combination of a Russian soloist, a Russian conductor, a Russian orchestra playing Russian music in a Russian concert hall seems to me to give the music an extra 10% of authenticity. Everyone involved here plays with fervour and with feeling. Three stars.

For the rest of the CD, Trifonov gives us solo piano pieces – mainly of very welcome Liszt arrangements of Schubert songs. But I am so entranced with the Tchaikovsky that I haven't yet managed to listen beyond it.

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