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A Young Virtuoso Makes His Philharmonic Debut

10.01.12
Daniil Trifonov
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Daniil Trifonov in Piano Debut With New York Philharmonic

Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, has likened the experience of working with a musician for the first time to a blind date. But there were certainly no awkward moments during the terrific performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 by the 21-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov that he conducted on Saturday evening at Avery Fisher Hall.

The orchestra and the soloist clearly had chemistry, sounding completely in sync even during the trickiest passages. Their vivid dialogues unfolded with both verve and spontaneity, at brisk tempos that stopped short of breathless.

Mr. Trifonov, who is making his Philharmonic debut with this work, has won several major competitions recently, including the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

A slender man with an exuberant stage presence, Mr. Trifonov is certainly a virtuoso with a demonstrably prizewinning technique, evident as he fluidly sailed through bravura passages, his fingers moving in a blur through rapid octaves and chords. But he offered far more than mere virtuosity, which is now common among young pianists showing ever more dazzling technique. Mr. Trifonov demonstrated an elegant touch and witty grace in more lighthearted moments and poetic insight in more introspective passages.

After this concerto’s New York premiere in 1922, Prokofiev lamented that American audiences did not appreciate the piece, though he would surely be gratified to see its popularity almost a century later. At a preintermission encore Mr. Trifonov rewarded the enthusiastic audience on Saturday with a lovely, gracefully shaped rendition of the Liszt-Schumann “Widmung.”

Mr. Gilbert opened the program with Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” leading a vividly etched performance brimming with ghoulish spirit. Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, played his solo with panache.

“It has always been a dream of mine,” Mr. Gilbert writes in the program book, to perform Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” with Glenn Dicterow, the Philharmonic’s concertmaster since 1980, as violin soloist. (Mr. Dicterow, the orchestra’s longest-serving concertmaster, will step down after the 2013-14 season).

Mr. Dicterow clearly enjoyed his role, expressively rendering the solos that depict the voice of Scheherazade. The orchestra sounded superb here as elsewhere; Mr. Gilbert led a full-blooded and kaleidoscopic rendition, with sensuous string playing and alluring woodwind solos that vividly evoked languid Arabian nights.