Yannick Nézet-Séguin Conducts Rachmaninov Variations

Performed by Daniil Trifonov and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov,Trifonov
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Yannick Nézet-Séguin Conducts Rachmaninov Variations
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Chopin; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Trifonov: Rachmaniana
PERFORMER: Daniil Trifonov (piano); Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 4970

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Daniil Trifonov’s first recording of Rachmaninov, a composer to whom he feels particularly close, is for the most part a compelling experience. I particularly like the idea of bringing together the three major sets of variations onto one disc, something which as far as I know has not been previously done, with Trifonov’s own Rachmaniana an attractive if hardly original foil. It’s also apt that Trifonov has recorded the Paganini Rhapsody with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the ensemble that accompanied Rachmaninov in the world premiere performance under Stokowski over 80 years ago.

The Philadelphians under Yannick Nézet-Séguin provide sterling support for Trifonov’s stunning pyrotechnics. There are also moments of magical repose, Trifonov achieving astonishing beauty of tone and atmosphere in the almost impressionistic harmonies of Variations 11 and 17. It’s not clear from the booklet whether the recording derives from a live concert, but this may explain the momentary lapse of ensemble between the violins and the rest of the orchestra at the beginning of Variation 19. Nevertheless, this is clearly an outstanding version in an already overcrowded field.

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Trifonov’s range of colour and imagination in the Corelli Variations is mesmerising. The somewhat earlier Chopin Variations are also projected with brilliance, staggering clarity of fingerwork and lightness of timbre. Yet I’m not totally convinced by Trifonov’s interventionist approach to the work’s structure. True, the composer sanctioned cutting a few variations for the sake of reducing its already considerable duration, but Trifonov’s excisions involve a not very convincing change of key between two variations that are not adjacent to each other. Even less justified is his idea, possibly culled from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, of recapitulating Chopin’s Prelude at the end of the work. Erik Levi