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Daniil Trifonov (piano)
The Magics of Music
& The Castelfranco Veneto Recital
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude in F major, Op. 10, No. 8
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Étude No. 5 in C sharp minor, Op. 42
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Variations on a theme of Chopin, Op. 22
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) (arr. Trifonov)
Overture to Die Fledermaus
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
rec. 2014, Il Teatro Accademico di Castelfranco Veneto & various locations
Picture format: 16:9
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
NTSC; Region O
Commentary in English with subtitles: German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Traditional Chinese
Written and directed by Christopher Nupen

In a fascinating filmed interview on YouTube, Christopher Nupen relates the circumstances which led to the making of this two-part film. Never having heard Trifonov’s playing, he was invited to the pianist’s London debut recital and was literally bowled over. At a post-concert supper, Trifonov’s honesty, openness, modesty and intelligence greatly impressed him; the rest is history. Nupen is at pains to stress that artist’s have to want to make a film, and need to feel at ease with all concerned. This relaxed relationship is certainly tangible in the many short interviews between the artist and the film-maker throughout this newly released DVD from Allegro Films. Nupen adheres to an effective tried and tested formula, used in his other artist-centred films, presenting both a portrait film and an associated performance.

The first part presents an engaging portrait of the Russian pianist who is ‘the most talked about piano talent in the world today’. Where did it all begin? He was born in 1991 in Nizhny Novgorod, and his urge to compose had surfaced by the age of five. There’s an astonishing sequence, at the beginning, in which Trifonov, aged eight,  performs one of his own compositions – a piece called ‘Pinocchio’. He plays it from memory to a packed hall and already, at that young age, he exhibits poise and presence of mind, qualities he will later draw upon when his career takes off. His parents, being professional musicians, sent him to Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music for gifted children. In 2009 he became a piano student of Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. At twenty, he won first prizes in both the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky Piano Competitions, achievements that propelled him onto the world-stage.

Sergei Babayan tells it from the teacher’s perspective. He found his student a natural Chopin player, a quick learner and one hundred per cent focused. He has a wonderful ear for colour, and Trifonov demonstrates for us, with running commentary, Ravel’s Une barque sur l'océan ("A Boat on the Ocean") (Miroirs) with dazzling virtuosity. Babayan also relates an incident where he advised his student against looking too much down at the keys when playing. He gave the example of how blind people circumnavigate the geography of the keyboard, urging his student to practice in the dark. This Trifonov practised for hours, until the technique was fully mastered. He also practised playing standing up and lying flat across the stool; this too at his teacher’s instigation. He was always eager to learn and improve. For Babayan it was one of the most productive student/teacher relationships he has ever experienced.

The film uncovers a modest and unassuming person, thoughtful, reflective, reserved yet intelligently insightful and articulate, whose career hasn’t really changed him. Everything he does is for the love of music and he is, as Christopher Nupen says: ‘A maker of magic in his search for beauty’. Trifonov is by no means a pianist only, but one of that rarer breed – a musician. The Cleveland Institute commissioned his first Piano Concerto, which he has composed very much in the Romantic style. He is seen, in extracts, performing it. One detects influences of Scriabin and Rachmaninov, yet it embodies a wealth of ideas and imaginative flair. It is interesting hearing his thoughts on how the work evolved. He tells us that he tried to involve the orchestra a great deal, not wanting it to function merely in a secondary accompanying role. In many sections, the orchestra have the lead, and tell the main story. He likens the Concerto to chamber music. One of the works beautiful themes was inspired by hearing a choir on a visit to a church in Tours, France.

Trifonov visits the Fazioli piano factory in Sacile, Italy to select a concert grand for London. There are three to choose from, displayed in a concert hall with ‘a good acoustic’, as he remarks. He settles for one which will be used by him for his future visits to the UK.

There are filmed performance extracts of Chopin Preludes interspersed throughout and these add an element of cohesion.

The impressive setting of the old Teatro Accademico in Castelfranco Veneto, near Venice, is the venue for the concert which forms part 2. In the Chopin Étude in F major, the right hand arpeggios glide effortlessly across the keyboard. The Rachmaninov Chopin Variations form the most substantial part, and it is pleasing to have this rarely performed work on the programme. There is a sequence prior to the performance where the pianist discusses the composer’s two alternative endings. Trifonov is not completely happy with them, and decides to return to Chopin’s original Prelude at the end. Aside from the stunning technique on display, Trifonov’s achievement of colour and his sensitivity to all gradients of dynamic range are spellbinding. His composer/transcriber credentials are shown to brilliant effect in his arrangement of the Die Fledermaus Overture, a virtuosic tour-de-force of scintillating bravura. Throughout the recital, the camera angles are judiciously placed, one offering close-ups of the pianist’s hands. There is no distracting panning or zooming, everything is tastefully executed.

This excellent visual record of the young Trifonov, like all Nupen’s endeavours, offers many insights and is approached with sensitivity and sincerity. I have no doubt that he is one of the most impressive pianistic talents on the concert circuit today. There is an amusing anecdote towards the end of the film. Trifonov relates the story of a visit to a swimming pool, once immersed, where he plays the Rachmaninov Second Concerto, using the water and its resistance as a ‘dummy’ keyboard; his aim being to free the shoulders and build up strength. A useful tip for pianists.

Stephen Greenbank



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