Young Russian pianist puts on bravura performance with Fort Worth Symphony

Daniil Trifonov

By Olin Chism

An amazing 22-year-old Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov, is the star attraction of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's concerts this weekend. On Friday night, an unusually large audience virtually filled Bass Hall to hear him play. They got more than their money's worth.

Trifonov and the orchestra, with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting, played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, a work thoroughly familiar to local audiences by virtue of its numerous appearances at the Cliburn competition through the years.

Despite the familiarity, there was nothing routine about this performance. To be sure, there was plenty of the pianistic derring-do that audiences have come to expect and love with this piece, as, for example, in the titanic first-movement cadenza and the pulse-racing finale. But Trifonov is a true musician, not just an acrobat of piano technique, and his performance was unusual in its strongly lyrical impulse -- gentle passages made their impression as much as stormy ones.

There was also remarkable clarity despite the thick texture of the music, and much attention to detail, with subsidiary lines that tend to get lost in many performances becoming audible for once.

For the Fort Worth Symphony, this might have been seen as a practice run for the upcoming Cliburn. If so, the orchestral part of the competition is going to be in good shape. The string sound was lush, and instrumental soloists were in fine form.

At the end of the concerto, Trifonov got more than the routine standing O, and after a number of bows gave the audience a lovely encore.

The concert opened with Network by Kevin Puts, a former composer-in-residence with the FWSO. It's a highly energetic work, heavy on brass and racing strings, and it generated its share of excitement. Whether it has staying power, only time will tell.

The program ended with an effective performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. The high point for me was the moving slow movement, beautifully molded by Harth-Bedoya, with gorgeous strings and eloquent woodwinds.

Much of the rest of the work tends to be pompous, but conductor and orchestra made effective advocates.