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A pianist’s spectacular debut and a colorful new score highlight BSO program

Giancarlo Guerrero, Daniil Trifonov
Boston Classical Review

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Boston Symphony Orchestra played host to two rising stars in a full-bodied program of Russian and Spanish-flavored music Thursday night at Symphony Hall.

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero teamed up with Daniil Trifonov and the BSO to offer a spectacular performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

The 21-year-old Trifonov’s performance of this work has become celebrated in his meteoric rise since winning the International Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions last year. His recording of the rhapsodic concerto with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra was released recently, and he will be making a number of U.S. and European debuts this season.

Trifonov, making his BSO debut, handled the concerto’s pyrotechnics with ease and flair. He approached the first movement cadenzas with particular fury, which, in only a few spots, obscured the clarity in his otherwise fluid technique.

But his performance offered much more than virtuosity. He played the lyrical passages—notably the second movement—with a singing piano tone and mature sensitivity to the musical phrasing. Guerrero—music director of the Nashville Symphony—guided the orchestra with sharp attention to the work’s many soaring and exposed lines for solo instruments.

After four curtain calls, Trifonov treated the enthusiastic audience to a tender performance of Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s Widmung.

But Trifonov was not the only one to offer a stellar performance that night. From memory, Guerrero guided the BSO through a razor-sharp reading of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat.

The Fifth Symphony, written in 1944, is Prokofiev’s largest work in the genre. Its multi-textured score mixes Tchaikovskian lyricisms with biting dissonances that resemble the composer’s score to the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky. The second movement even has a quirky, pompous quality reminiscent of the scherzo of Shostakovich’s own Fifth Symphony.

Guerrero has a subdued conducting style and uses a small beat, though he commands a full sound from the ensemble, pulling out the many countermelodies and contrapuntal parts buried in the texture of Prokofiev’s score. Hulking chords in the BSO’s lower brass section added strength in the outer movements and only rarely seemed to overpower the rest of the ensemble.

Guerrero, a champion of new music, opened the program with Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos for Orchestra (2000), a colorful work loosely based on two 18th-century versions of the triple-meter Spanish dance by Antonio Soler and Luigi Boccherini.

Fandangos is a post-modern tour de force. In a series of episodic variations, the orchestra develops the stylized dance rhythm—an ostinato similar to that used in Ravel’s Bolero—throughout the single-movement piece. Sierra’s musical language, at times, resembles that of George Rochberg’s neo-Romantic symphonies, where powerful, dissonances clash periodically with winding melodic lines and dense tonal harmonies.

As in the Prokofiev, the BSO was in top shape and offered a crisp and energetic performance of Sierra’s score, which marked the debut of the Puerto Rican composer’s music with the orchestra. The audience responded with warm applause when the composer stepped onstage for a curtain bow.