Daniil Trifonov, Wigmore Hall, London – review

Daniil Trifonov
Financial Times

By Andrew Clark

The astonishing Russian pianist brings an ecstatic quality to his performances

Virtuosity is one thing, youthful exuberance another. Many aspiring talents survive on just one of these qualities. A lucky few have both. No one combines them with musical maturity the way Daniil Trifonov does. The technical brilliance is always at the service of his powerful imagination. The exuberance is controlled by his natural musicianship. What makes him such a phenomenon is the ecstatic quality he brings to his performances – an all-consuming intensity-of-belonging on the public platform that translates into something thrilling, absorbing, inspiring. Small wonder every western capital is in thrall to him – not least London, where a long-sold-out Wigmore Hall listened in quasi-disbelief on Tuesday as this astonishing Russian pianist, still only 22, surpassed himself yet again.

The programme looked odd – a first half of Stravinsky’s 1925 Serenade, just two of Debussy’s Images and an incomplete Ravel Miroirs, then Schumann’s Etudes symphoniques in an unconventional version interpolating three early variations that did not make it into the standard edition. We need not have worried. Trifonov lent it all an inevitability, investing every phrase, every paragraph, with his own inimitable, unpredictable, rapturous éclat.

There was nothing neo-classical about the Stravinsky. Trifonov’s handling of the opening motif and disharmonic clusters rooted it in the grand Russian tradition, infusing the émigré composer’s dry clarity with colour, temperament and fearlessness, not least in the mad chatter of the Rondoletto and the thunderous octaves of the finale.

His Debussy was less a question of taste than a matter of tone – a touch hard for “Reflets dans l’eau”, sometimes overpowering the music in a “Mouvement” of eager spirit. Miroirs (minus “La vallée des cloches”) fared better. “Oiseaux tristes”, slow and eruptive, suggested a watercolour in sound, while “Une barque sur l’océan” had diabolic depth beneath the shimmering surface. As for “Alborada del gracioso”, Trifonov created an unstoppable torque-effect.

Schumann’s studies came across as both manic and poetic, each emotional nuance heightened and close to the precipice – a journey of unbroken concentration and momentum. Trifonov does not do reflection or repose and doesn’t need to, as long as his self-belief continues at this extraordinary level.