Daniil Trifonov at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Scriabin, Liszt & Chopin

Piano Sonata No.2 in G sharp minor, Op.19 (Sonata-fantasy)
Piano Sonata in B minor
24 Preludes, Op.28

Daniil Trifonov (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 4 December, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Daniil Trifonov. Photograph: www.intermusica.co.ukThe International Piano Series continud with the Southbank Centre debut of the 21-year-old Daniil Trifonov. In 2010 he took Third Prize at the XVIth International Chopin Piano Competition; and last year First Prize at the thirteenth Arthur Rubinstein Competition, then a few weeks later he took First Prize, Gold Medal and Grand Prix at the XIVth International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Here he offered composers with whom he has a demonstrable affinity: his involvement with the music was palpable, nothing was glib, and he was not thrown off course by the egregious incursion of three ringing mobiles. The owners (really selfish vandals) should be utterly ashamed.

The opening of Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasy unfolded seductively, the piano singing, the music taken at an easy pace, but with borders of danger to keep one’s interest. Storminess is never far away in Scriabin, and the rising climax came to the surface of the calm sea like a creature from another world, before slipping away, leaving only the memory. The second-movement Presto was too foursquare, lacking in the freedom necessary to give this music its loose character: Trifonov held himself back, vigour tamed, surprisingly.

Liszt’s B minor Sonata – “an invitation to hissing and stomping” according to a reviewer at its first performance, dedicated to Robert Schumann, loathed by his wife Clara his friend Brahms, and loved by Richard Wagner – was quite another matter, and compelled from the pregnant opening utterances that Trifonov offered to the stark and shattering close. Trifonov gave the work a Brucknerian feel with the striving at the ever-intensifying climaxes and their cumulative effect. Depths of despair were probed, energetic outbusts were defiant. In calmer moments, Trifonov stretched the tempo, and took his time. Trifonov’s technical facility was faultless, but middle-range dynamics didn’t compel as the loud and soft ones.

Hearing all Fryderyk Chopin’s 24 Preludes in one ‘go’ is a bit of a slog. Fortunately they are ordered so that no two of the pieces are of similar texture. Trifonov made the case of them being a ‘whole. He played sensitively and with plenty of colour. The A minor example (No.2) was dark and brooding, similarly with the E minor offering (No.4), which was less overt, but nevertheless promoted longing for times lost. The ‘Raindrop’ Prelude (No.15) was too pretty, but apposite fun was had with the G sharp minor (No.12) and the E flat (No.19): the former dispatched with a Tom-and-Jerry chase fervour, the latter a merry dance. Finally, the D minor Prelude displayed Trifonov’s ability to compress much into a short piece: his oscillating left-hand was where his strength lay, and tumultuous momentum bowled over before the sudden close. What a pity my neighbour’s shout of ‘bravo’ interrupted the reverberating sound. A similar outburst from somebody equally insensitive destroyed the close of the Liszt.

Three encores were served up (rather too soon). Medtner’s Fairy Tale (Opus 51/2) relaxed Trifonov after the emotional clout of Chopin, then Guido Agosti’s arrangement of ‘Infernal Dance’ (from Stravinsky’s The Firebird) showcased his devilish technique. Then, something completely different: his own untitled composition, a little fluttering and subtle responses, a calming and captivating au revoir from the pianist.

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