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He Rachs It

Daniil Trifonov

By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov astounds the Fort Worth Symphony audience with Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3.

You hardly know where to start to describe the performance in Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall on Saturday evening. Word had already spread about the incredible performance by 22-year-old Russian pianist and recent winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Daniil Trifonov’s Friday night performance with the Fort Worth Symphony, of the monumental third piano concerto of Rachmaninoff. However, the reality still came as a surprise; Trifonov delivered a stunning, powerful yet lyric, and completely original, interpretation. We heard the piece anew. And that is saying something for a work that, because of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, is practically the city’s anthem. 

By pure serendipity, I ran into Trifonov earlier in the day. We both attended the excellent concert presented as part of the Cliburn at the Modern series. A review of that concert will appear here soon. We chatted about music, pianos, and life as we wondered through the eclectic exhibit of modern art. 

He looks younger than his 22 years, although a much older soul looks at you through his eyes. He is slight of build and his hands look small for a pianist who tackles the wide reaches that Rachmaninoff requires. It is hard to know if his reserved manner was due to the fact that we were in a museum, which required low-voiced conversation, or his insecurity about his acceptable English or both, but it reserved appeared to be his natural state. 

However, when he began to play, that other, older soul took over and exploded into the concerto. This must have been what it was like to hear Horowitz at 22. From the opening melody, so lovingly shaped and original that it barely sounded familiar, to the hurricane-force blizzard on notes that he delivered in the first movement concerto, the audience sat spellbound. When the movement ended, there was no applause as often happens when a first movement is hit out of the park. No, we just sat there thinking, “What did we just hear?” No one wanted to break the spell until the entire piece was ended. 

That ovation was thunderous: deafening applause, whistles, cheers, foot stomping. It went on, with no let up, for curtain call after curtain call, until he sat down to play an encore. After the demands of the concerto, you might have expected something not so challenging. On the contrary, he picked a piece that requires dazzling virtuosity and overwhelming power, both of which he delivered with obvious relish. The piece was Guido Agosti’s nearly unplayable transcription of the “Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s Firebird

After intermission, Music Director Miguel Harth Bedoya gave one of his best performances with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, the composer’s most frequently performed work. Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra had already acquitted themselves well in the Rachmaninoff, as supportive and equally exciting partners to Trifonov. 

Right from the start of the symphony, Harth-Bedoya unleashed the raw power that this work requires yet he never overplayed, keeping everything is scale until the last booming notes in the timpani. All of the solo players have a workout in this piece so extra credit has to of to all of them: Concertmaster Michael Shih, flutist Jan Crisanti (flute), clarinetist Ana Victoria Luperi, oboist Jennifer Corning Lucio, bassoonist Kevin Hall and Mark Houghton on the horn. 

There could have been a little more sarcasm in the scherzo, but the meditative ruminations of the slow movement were both serene and searing at the same time. The last movement raced to its conclusion, finally breaking out into the sunlight, delivering a message of hope that the Soviet repressed composer could only dream about. 

The concert opened with a work by one of the former FWSO composers-in-residence, Kevin Puts. The FWSO commitment to the music of our time deserves a gold star and puts other organizations stuck in ancestor worship to shame. This piece is fast and slow at the same time, as the composer overlaps contrasting lines. Some of the players had some difficulty with the complex rhythms, especially in the complex fugal passages, but all were in high alert and gave the piece a zinger of a performance.