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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
12 Transcendental Études, S139 [66:04]
2 Études de Concert, S.145 [7:05]
3 Études de Concert, S.144 [18:56]
Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141 [25:23]
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
rec. September 2015, Siemensvilla, Berlin
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4795529 [66:04 + 51:28]

Russian-born pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov, still only twenty-five, here offers Liszt’s four sets of études. This is his latest release from Deutsche Grammophon and it's an ambitious call in anyone’s book. His rise to the upper echelons of the pianistic firmament has been rapid indeed. He was born in 1991 in Nizhny Novgorod and 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. Since then he hasn’t looked back.

The first CD is devoted to the 12 Transcendental Études, complete cycles of which Trifonov has previously performed live in concert to enthusiastic critical acclaim. It took twenty-five years for the 12 Transcendental Études to evolve into their present form, undergoing two revisions along the way. The fifteen year old Liszt composed  Étude en douze exercices (Study in twelve exercises) S.136 in 1826; these were later revised, becoming more elaborate and technically challenging. They were published in 1838 as Douze Grande Études. Liszt’s final thoughts emerged in 1851 with the title Études d'exécution transcendante. They bear a dedication to his teacher Carl Czerny. Programmatic titles in French and German were allotted to all but numbers 2 and 10.

The cycle begins with Preludio, an arresting curtain-raiser guaranteed to make you sit up and take notice. In Paysage Trifonov achieves some exquisite pastel shades, delicately voicing the chords and evoking the peace and serenity of the countryside. Mazeppa showcases the pianist’s dazzling octaves and scintillating scale runs, depicting the energetic galloping of the horse. I love the sense of drama and the fire he injects, a quality sadly lacking in Arrau’s version. The demonic forces are unleashed and make their presence powerfully felt. The technically thrilling and mercurial Feux Follets displays some stunning double-note passages. The gossamer lightness depicts the ‘will o’ the wisp’ – the mysterious lights leading the unwary traveller off his allotted course. Then there’s the nobility and heroic grandeur of Eroica. Busoni described Ricordanza as ‘faded love letters’. The pianist doesn’t allow the music to drift into sentimentality but keeps everything within the bounds of good taste. Harmonies du Soir offers a foretaste of impressionism and Debussy. The last bursts of sunlight fade early on and, like Richter, he achieves a stormy middle section, bringing the music to a powerful climax to coruscating effect. With non-intrusive tremolos, the cumulative build-up of sonorities in Chasse-Neige is compelling. Trifonov evokes an immense snowstorm, contouring the over-arching melody in expressive fashion.

The second CD begins with the two sets of Études de Concerts. What struck me when listening to them was the care and detail he lavishes on each. Waldesrauchen sparkles and you feel the wind blowing through the trees, and the impish character of Gnomenreigen is also convincing. If you like Ricordanza then my guess is you’ll be drawn to the lyrical outpourings of the less well-known Il Lamento. I don’t think I’ve ever heard La Leggierezza so lightly textured and diaphanous. In Un Sospiro the way Trifonov eloquently etches the melody over the accompanying arpeggios is deliciously seductive.

Liszt’s Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini were composed in 1838 and revised thirteen years later in 1851. They aren’t programmed or recorded that frequently as a set though no.3 La Campanella crops up from time in recitals, often as an encore. Each is a transcription or paraphrase of a Paganini Caprice, with the exception of La Campanella, which is taken from the finale of Paganini's Second Violin Concerto. Trifonov proves his mettle and tenacity in these virtuosically demanding pieces. Yet, it’s not only pyrotechnical skill on display here; the Russian pianist’s musicality and intellect stamp their mark on these virile readings. In No. 1 in G Minor Tremolo, scales and arpeggios are cleanly articulated, and the tremolos have a luminous quality. No. 2 is elegant and subtly nuanced, with pearl-like scale runs to die for. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tone so bell-like as Trifonov achieves in La Campanella. Arpeggios are rhythmically crisp in No. 4, and the chase is palpably kindled in No. 5. The cycle is brought to an imposing and breathtaking climax in No. 6.

Siemensvilla, Berlin proves an ideal venue, conferring warmth and just the right amount of resonance on the piano sound. Having listened to this recording many times over the past few weeks, I couldn’t imagine these works played any better. This is top-drawer playing in every respect.

Stephen Greenbank
Detailed tracklisting

CD 1 [66:04]
12 Transcendental Études, S139
Preludio [0:51]
Étude in A minor [2:06]
Paysage [5:21]
Mazeppa [8:08]
Feux Follets [3:27]
Vision [5:41]
Eroica [4:38]
Wilde Jagd [4:58]
Ricordanza [11:07]
Étude in F minor [4:26]
Harmonies du Soir [9:29]
Chasse-Neige [5:52]

CD 2 [51:28]
2 Études de Concert, S.145
No. 1 Waldesrauschen [4:14]
No. 2 Gnomenreigen [2:51]
3 Études de Concert, S.144
No. 1 Il Lamento in A flat [9:07]
No. 2 La Leggierezza in F minor [4:33]
No. 3 Un Sospiro in D flat [5:16]
Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141
No. 1 in G Minor Tremolo [5:13]
No. 2 in E Flat Major Octave [5:28]
No. 3 in G Sharp Minor, La campanella [4:51]
No. 4 in E Major Arpeggio [1:53]
No. 5 in E Major, La Chasse [3:00]
No. 6 in A Minor, Thema con variationi [4:58]



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