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Infusing Études With a Kaleidoscope of Flavors

Daniil Trifonov
The New York Times

Daniil Trifonov Returns to Carnegie Hall

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Almost exactly one year after his Carnegie Hall recital debut, the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov returned to its main auditorium. Word of that triumphant debut, in which the then-21-year-old demonstrated his uncommon technical gifts and poetic sensibility in works by Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin, and the recent release of its live recording, contributed to the crush of ticket seekers outside the hall on Thursday evening.

Such high expectations — and the accompanying marketing din — would tempt many a young soloist to respond with a flamboyant program of the fast-and-loud school of piano playing. Instead, the first half of Mr. Trifonov’s recital, comprising short works by Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, was almost entirely concerned with color. The second half was given over to Schumann’s Symphonic Études (Op. 13), which, in his individualistic rendition, became an investigation of coded messages and half-dreamed inner voices.

The Symphonic Études are a series of variations — Mr. Trifonov included three of the posthumously published ones for a total of 15 — on a pensive theme. Schumann gives each a distinct rhythmic motion; the challenge to the performer is to imbue each with a specific mood, too. But Mr. Trifonov rarely contented himself with a singular flavor. With the spendthrift imagination of youth, he created miniature narratives for each étude that traversed multiple states of mind. Amid the complex textures he would pick out a single line and make it the lead character, then zoom in on another detail and promote that to the sometimes unlikely antihero.

In selections from Debussy’s “Images” (Book I), Mr. Trifonov showed that he’s capable of reining in that storytelling instinct when needed. The first, “Reflets dans l’eau” (“Reflections in the water”), begins with placid, shimmering chords that are in no rush to get anywhere — music that may, in fact, not want to get out of bed at all. Mr. Trifonov was content to create delicately shaded colors that appeared suspended in time.

In selections from Ravel’s “Miroirs,” too, he demonstrated an affinity with the French repertory and its intense romance with instrumental timbre.

The program opened with Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical “Serenade in A,” which Mr. Trifonov played with careful attention to structure, his lanky frame bent over the keyboard so far that his face nearly touched his hands and he resembled a watchmaker absorbed in the assembly of minute and intricate gears.

Mr. Trifonov gave three encores: two fluid accounts of Chopin’s Opus 28 Preludes (Nos. 17 and 16) and one composition of his own, a breathless, exuberant Scherzo from his Piano Sonata.