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Trifonov Live
CD1: The Carnegie Recital
CD2: Trifonov plays Frédéric Chopin
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
rec. 2010/13
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4793795 [78:48 + 66:27]

'Last night I listened to him again on YouTube – he has everything and more. What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.' These are the words of Martha Argerich no less, and I have to say I couldn’t agree more. Since viewing the compelling documentary by Christopher Nupen on TV a couple of weeks ago I, too, have been watching the YouTube clips, and am astonished by what I have seen and heard. The Chopin Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, for instance, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Asher Fisch, at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition (May 2011, Tel Aviv), stands out as one of the most captivating performances I have ever come across. Let’s hope Trifonov takes the Concerto into the studio in the not too distant future.

However, returning to the task in hand, DG have recently released this twofer of albums, previously issued separately, one of a recital from Carnegie Hall in February 2013, and the other of Chopin selections from two concerts in Italy, which took place in 2010. Between these in 2011, Trifonov won the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

For the Carnegie Recital, Trifonov offers a programme of composers he clearly has a great affinity with. In the Scriabin Sonata which opens the concert, the young Russian immerses himself immediately in the mystic composer’s sound-world, conjuring up an impressionistic canvas of a myriad shadings. The playing has beguiling luminosity, and the contrast between volatility and calmness are unquestionably realized. The second movement is fleet of foot and mercurial, and the delicate, diaphanous pianissimos are breathtaking.

For any successful performance of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor, the performer has to have a grasp of the work’s cyclical structure, keep it as a single cohesive unit and integrate the sonata’s diverse episodes into one over-arching sonata-form movement. If this integrated narrative is not achieved, it can fall flat on its face. What distinguishes this performance for me is the artistic maturity on display in one so young. Trifonov has a complete understanding of the structure and architecture of the music. His is a dazzling technique, utilizing a wide dynamic range. Whilst there is fire and passion, on the other side of the coin there is eloquent lyricism and a wealth of poetic insights.

It is amazing that in the space of a month, I have encountered two of the finest traversals of the Chopin Preludes I have ever heard. I have recently reviewed Grigory Sokolov’s on his debut DG album. Here we have another stunning debut set of the cycle, again from the ‘Yellow Label’. Trifonov showcases the diverse range of these twenty-four gems. He doesn’t approach them as mere superficial miniatures, but as individual pieces, which Chopin calculated to perfection. Quite remarkable is the pianist’s attention to detail and the delicacy and refinement in his playing. I was struck by the imagination and fantasy he brings to each of the pieces. No. 5 has delicacy, rhythmic exactitude and peerless finger-work. No. 6 is probing, with an exquisitely phrased left-hand melody. The pristine, seamless pearl-like runs of Nos. 10 and 16 will be the envy of many pianists. The dark undercurrents of No. 14 contrast with the tenderness and lyricism of the outer sections of No. 15 ‘Raindrop’.

Medtner’s Fairy Tale op.26 No.2 provides a scintillating encore. Applause is retained for the Chopin Preludes and encore only; otherwise the audience remains quiet throughout.

The second CD is devoted solely to the music of Frédéric Chopin and consists of selections taken from two live recitals the pianist gave in Italy in 2010. What we have on display is not just dazzling virtuosity, but a searching penetration of the music. It is this combination of poetry, imagination, subtlety, nuance and inspiration which makes Trifonov stand head and shoulders above many of his young colleagues. He seems just made for Chopin’s music.

In the three Mazurkas the pianist’s approach is one of intimacy. He employs subtle rubato and lilting rhythms and achieves a wide-ranging spectrum of tonal colour. Phrasing and dynamics are well-chosen.

In the Third Sonata, the longest work on the disc, Trifonov plays to the manner born. The majestic opening of the first movement is dramatic and arresting. The glorious second subject is ravishingly played. The Scherzo is dazzling and the Largo is introspective and heartfelt. The finale is a virtuosic tour-de-force.

This release has been a revelation, and leaves me wanting more. As well as nominating this as a ‘Recording of the Month’ it will also rank for me as one of the highlights of 2015. I can only echo the words of The Times’ critic, who said of Trifonov that ‘he has the world at his feet’.

Stephen Greenbank


CD 1 [78:48]
The Carnegie Recital

Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata No. 2 op. 19; "Sonata Fantasy" [10:30]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor [29:48]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
24 Préludes op. 28 [37:05]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Four Fairy Tales op.26 No.2 [1:25]
rec. live, 5 February 2013, Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall, New York

CD 2 [66:27]
Trifonov Plays Chopin

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Rondo "a la Mazur" in F major op.5 [8:17]
Grande Valse Brillante in E flat major op.18 [4:08]
Etude in F major op. 10 no. 8 [2:13]
Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante op.22 [12:06]
Mazurka no.33 in B major op. 56 no.1 [4:24]
Mazurka no.34 in C major op. 56 no.2 [1:42]
Mazurka no.35 in C minor op. 56 no.3 [6:30]
Sonata no. 3 in B minor op.58 [27:03]
rec. live, May 2010, Venezia, Teatro la Fenice
November 2010, Fazioli Hall, Sacile


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