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Minnesota Orchestra review: Young pianist a storm on stage

02.20.14
Daniil Trifonov
Pioneer Press

By Rob Hubbard

Maybe it was the storm warning that resulted in so many empty seats at Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall on Thursday morning, even though the snow didn't start in earnest until about an hour after the Minnesota Orchestra's concert concluded. But those who were there will tell you that a tumultuous tempest erupted from the hall's piano.

The master of the elements was 22-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. Currently one of classical music's most talked-about musicians, Trifonov demonstrated why during his Minnesota Orchestra debut. He took a piece that's become a fount of bombast in the hands of some -- Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto -- and brought out the beauty at its contemplative core, yet didn't shortchange its urgent explosiveness.

It was a simply magnificent performance, one that left me dumbfounded as to how someone so youthful could have such a deep understanding of Rachmaninoff, not to mention the technical skills to summon such furious flurries of notes and lyrical lines of arresting intimacy. Trifonov not only possesses marvelous musicality, but he's a joy to watch, attacking the piano with such ferocity it seemed an insufficient conduit for his passion. He bounced on the bench and almost off it, seemingly imploring the instrument to give more.

And that was just the first movement. The ensuing Adagio had a different kind of intensity, sounding like a heartfelt confession, soft yet piercing. On the finale, Trifonov leaned over the keyboard like a chemist crafting a concoction quite unlike any other, bringing whispering pianissimos to a piece in which they are rarely found. An extended standing ovation resulted in an encore, Chopin's E-flat "Grande valse brillante." It underlined the impression that this young pianist is both "grande" and "brillante."

But the Minnesota Orchestra sounded pretty darn "grande," too. Displaying balance, crispness and clarity far beyond what was offered during the first fortnight of post-lockout concerts, it not only did splendid things with the Rachmaninoff, but also with a pair of greatest hits from the first third of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird" Suite and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero." The conductor, Minnesota Opera music director Michael Christie, clearly came in with strong interpretive ideas and communicated them well.