Trifonov electrifies at SummerFest

Daniil Trifonov
U~T San Diego

By James Chute

Young Russian pianist shows he's the real deal in sold-out concert

Count me in. I’m jumping on the Daniil Trifonov is classical music’s next big thing bandwagon. Trifonov ‘s superb performance of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin electrified an overflow SummerFest audience in Sherwood Auditorium Tuesday.

Trifonov, who has won several international competitions including the Tchaikovsky and the Rubinstein, is that rare pianist who not only seemed to be an extension of the composer but an extension of the piano itself.

The young Russian virtuoso did not play the piano so much as he tested it, pushing it to the extremes in both ends of the dynamic spectrum. Portions of the Rachmaninoff spoke with symphonic power. You wondered how Trifonov was getting that much sound out of the La Jolla Music Society’s Steinway.

But at the other end of the spectrum, you were spellbound at how he could coax such delicacy, even tenderness out of his instrument. And then there was the universe of sound he created in between those extremes.

But what made all that matter was the unusual combination of absolute conviction and sheer joy he brought to Rachmaninoff. His interpretation was so fluid and yet it sounded so inevitable, it was as if he was plugged into Rachmaninoff’s psyche. This piece is as difficult Rachmaninoff’s more frequently performed concertos, but Trifonov played it with complete ease. His flawless technique was astonishing, yet every note was tied to some musical impulse.

The balance of the program showed Trifonov to be a sensitive collaborator. In Schumann’s “Five Pieces in Folk Style” for piano and cello, he allowed cellist Gary Hoffman to take the lead.

And in Schumann’s Quintet for Piano and Strings in E-flat Major, one of the keystones of the chamber music repertoire, Trifonov never overplayed his part. In this work, which essentially launched the genre of the piano quintet, the piano typically dominates. But Trifonov didn’t.

What dominated this interpretation was a musical impulse shared by Trifonov, violinists David Chan and Stephanie Jeong, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Gary Hoffman. Each of these players has a strong, pronounced musical personality (or ego), but they set it aside in a convincing performance that was both nuanced and vibrant.

Trifonov played two encores: Guido Agosti’s arrangement of “Dance Infernale” from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” after the first half and Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s “The Trout” after the second. The Stravinsky was just as fierce as the Schubert was charming.