Out of Russia, always something pianistically new. When 20 year-old Daniil Trifonov won the Tchaikovsky competition last year, it was clear he was extraordinary.
Born in Nizhniy Novgorod, but trained from the age of eight at Moscow’s fabled Gnessin school (where Evgeny Kissin had trained 20 years before), Trifonov had been allowed to let his talent grow at its own quiet pace, until he burst on the international scene with medals in the Warsaw Chopin and Tel Aviv Rubinstein competitions, as well as in Moscow’s musical equivalent of the Olympics. For his London lap of honour, he played Tchaikovsky’s ‘Piano Concerto No 1’ with the confidence of a master, displaying power in spades, crystalline passage-work, and a pearlised singing tone; his encore – Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’ – had flawless delicacy.
These same qualities were quickly apparent in his Wigmore recital, which was his lap of honour for winning the Rubinstein contest. He glided with a smile into Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Fruhlingsglaube, which seemed smile back at him; the sound was exquisitely calibrated, and so it was in Die Stadt, which followed. Then came Schubert’s great Sonata in B flat major, the first of the evening’s big tests. His way with this was original, playing the first movement’s opening statement with what singers would call a whitened tone, then gradually colouring it as the layers within layers were revealed, sometimes with crashing force, sometimes as though blown by the wind. He’d chosen a Fazioli in preference to the usual Steinway, and one could see why, since in his hands much of this work was clad in subtle shades of pianissimo, and the German instrument wouldn’t have done the job as well. The Andante was rapt, the Scherzo airborne, and the pained ambiguities of the concluding Allegro were resolved with a wonderfully triumphant flourish. This was a young man’s account: time will bring more dimensions.
In four Tchaikovsky pieces d’occasion after the interval his touch had changed, with each being a vividly characterised world. Then, rounding things off with Chopin’s Opus 10 Etudes, he blew us away. The cantabile ones were a delight, and I have never heard the finger-twisters delivered with more nonchalant ease (and speed). Five quirky encores – some of dubious musical quality – had the hall on its feet, but for me dissipated the spell.
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