Tchaikovsky • Chopin
Still only 21, Daniil Trifonov is quite a talent. Following success at the Chopin Piano Competition in 2010 and first prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition the year after, he has made the most hardened piano lovers sit up and take notice. His special blend of attributes is on display here, not least his technical ease, exquisite control and rich resource of colour.
In the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Trifonov’s playing ignites when it has to, but is generally notable for its dynamic phrasing and variety of articulation. For such an overworked piece it sounds remarkably fresh. He makes a beautiful sound, and the lyricism of the slow movement is touching and sincere. I occasionally miss a greater weight and poise, which is an issue more of sonority than of dynamic range. It’s as if Trifonov plays on the surface of the keys, rather than deeply into them, which results in a lack of richness and immediacy in some passages. Try Russian pianist Lazar Berman with Herbert von Karajan for a truly Olympian sonority. (Grigory Sokolov live had it too.) The Mariinsky Orchestra’s playing isn’t always incisive.
Chopin’s Barcarolle exudes subtlety and class, but most interesting is the selection of Liszt song transcriptions (Schubert, with Schumann’s Widmung). Here Trifonov’s pianism often seems miraculous, although he doesn’t yet have the measure of projecting and sustaining a line. Erlkönig is more impetuous than dramatic; and in their different ways both Die Forelle and Auf dem Wasser zu singen have wonderful delicacy yet miss their essential singing quality. Seasoned experts in this repertoire, such as pianists Jorge Bolet and John Browning, knew that for all the intricacy of Liszt’s writing, it’s the vocal line that’s paramount.