Prom 14: Prokofiev Piano Concertos

Sergei Babayan, Daniil Trifonov
The Arts Desk

Gergiev’s programme for this concert raised eyebrows when the Proms were announced: all five Prokofiev piano concertos, presented in chronological order, over the course of a long evening. As it turned out, he had some good reasons for his plan. The three Russian pianists he lined up – Daniil Trifonov (Concertos 1 and 3), Sergei Babayan (2 and 5), and Alexei Volodin (4) – had between them the talent to carry any programme. And the composer benefited too, with his Fourth and Fifth Concertos, both difficult works to programme, finding a natural home, and both appearing for the first time at the Proms.

Daniil Trifonov opened the proceedings with an austere but committed reading of the First Concerto. Trifonov has a distinctive sound, precise, clean and focused. He is expressive, but not flamboyant or sentimental. In short, he is an ideal pianist for Prokofiev, and there was little to fault here.The bold opening statement was given with a strident but austere determination, setting the tone for the whole piece. There is a deceptive power behind Trifonov’s technique: he’ll be pushing through fast passages with astonishing speed and accuracy, but then he’ll accelerate into a cadence, faster still, and without any compromise to his precision or the evenness of his tone. An impressive start to the evening.

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Montrose Trio Sparkles

The Montrose Trio
Entertainment Music

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has for years presented the very best chamber music performances. Wednesday night’s first Albuquerque concert of the season exemplified that tradition. The Montrose Trio gave a sparkling program of trios by Turina, Beethoven and Brahms.

It would be difficult, even impossible to find fault with the play of this marvelous Trio of veteran musicians. Martin Beaver, violin, and Clive Greensmith, cello, were both members of the former Tokyo String Quartet. New Mexico audiences have long appreciated the artistry of Jon Kimura Parker, most often as a piano soloist. While all are soloists in their own right, they play as a unit melding seamlessly with an impeccable sense of ensemble, giving vibrant performances that let each work reveal itself in all it has to say.

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Here's your Prom date: Russia's new piano dynamo

Daniil Trifonov
The London Times

The finest young pianist in the world is playing not one but two concertos in a night at the Albert Hall, he tells Richard Morrison.

Passers-by stare, not at the ghostly-pale face of the young man opposite me, but at his fingers. Delicate and surprisingly small — given his profession — they continually form piano chords on the table as he speaks. It’s as if Daniil Trifonov is simultaneously sustaining two mental states: one fielding questions from The Times, the other processing the music swirling through his brain. Or perhaps it's simply that he would be much happier expressing himself in music (although his English is perfectly fluent).

The 24-year-old Russian is without question the most astounding young pianist of our age - as the Albert Hall audience will discover when he appears at one of the summer's more bizarre Proms tomorrow. Valery Gergiev will conduct all give Prokofiev piano concertos, with Trifonov one of three pianists sharing the solo honors. He plays Nos 1 and 3, his teacher Sergei Babayan plays 2 and 5 and another Russian, Alexei Volodin, tackles the "left hand" concerto, No 4. 

Trifonov doesn't agree that playing all five concertos in one concert is strange. "It has already been done in St Petersburg and when you hear them all together it's almost like a unified piece; a big five-movement concerto," h says, his fingers seeming to run through one of Prokofiev's harmonic thickets as he talks. 
Like many post-Soviet Russian musicians, he prefers to see Prokofiev's music as a personal (not political) statement. "One big source of inspiration for people playing Prokofiev is his two volumes of diaries," he says. "They give a lot of insight into his mental state when he wrote the concertos. For instance, the Second Concerto is dedicated to his best friend and the diaries show Prokofiev's grief when that friend committed suicide."

What of the concertos that Trifonov will play? "The Third is fascinating because it is full of references to Prokofiev's ballet music and vocal music, so there's a hidden story," he says. "the First, by contrast, points to  his Russian heritage. It's a parody of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, but with everything upside down, including the main theme." Trifonov sings, as well as plays on the table, to demonstrate his point. It was that barnstorming Tchaikovsky concerto that turned Trifonov from prodigy to superstar. In 2011 he decided to enter two piano competitions - the Rubinstein in Tel Aviv and the Tchaikovsky in Moscow - in quick succession. "The last event for the Rubinstein was in the morning, then I flew to Moscow and did the first round of the Tchaikovsky that evening," he recalls. 

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