Daniil Trifonov Dazzles with Recent U.S. Tour, New DG Album, and Italy’s Abbiati Prize

Daniil Trifonov

“Make no mistake: Trifonov produces as beautiful piano playing as you can hear today,” stated the Washington Post after Daniil Trifonov's National Symphony debut last month. The collaboration was just one highlight of the Russian pianist’s recent North American tour, which combined several major orchestral debuts with a trio of high-profile solo recitals, coinciding with Deutsche Grammophon’s release of Trifonov: The Carnegie Recital, and helping to consolidate his reputation as “a pianist for the rest of our lives” (Norman Lebrecht). Trifonov, whose honors already include top prizes at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions, has just been named winner of the 2013 Franco Abbiati Prize for Best Instrumental Soloist; previous recipients of the prestigious award from Italy’s foremost music critics include such keyboard giants as Maurizio Pollini, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Sviatoslav Richter, Radu Lupu, and András Schiff.

For his first appearances with the National Symphony under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and with the San Francisco Symphony under Osmo Vänskä, Trifonov playedone of his signature works, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. According to the Washington Post,

“There is a waterfall of musical thought underlying the virtuosity. The imagination he brought to the small cadenzas at the end of Variations XI and XXII was amazingly colorful, and the transition from the tenebrous Variation XVII into the sunlight of the famous Variation XVIII was – I don’t mind saying it – breathtaking.”

The San Francisco Classical Voice confirmed:

“What mattered, and made this such a dazzling event, was the total conviction, the wash of fresh light that the soloist shone on a familiar work. … This was a concussive, ravishing, startling, and altogether convincing Rachmaninoff Rhapsody to remember. … If this had a been an Olympics event, the Russians, with Trifonov proudly carrying the flag, would have taken home the gold.”

Similarly, after hearing Trifonov’s account of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto at his Minnesota Orchestra debut in February, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported:

“He took a piece that’s become a fount of bombast in the hands of some…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.”

The pianist’s mastery of Rachmaninoff should come as little surprise to those familiar with his work. In a recent Washington Post profile titled “A Pianist Ahead of His Time,” Anne Midgette compares Trifonov to the fellow Russian whose music he interprets so cogently, explaining:

 “When he last played in Washington a year ago, I – astounded by the visceral, ethereal quality of his playing – compared him to Franz Liszt. So, I later found out, have a majority of the other journalists who have written about him. … Leave the comparisons with Liszt, the showman, and think more of Rachmaninoff. … Like Rachmaninoff, he is a performing virtuoso in the Russian school…and like Rachmaninoff, he is also a composer.”

Trifonov may be heard in this capacity on April 23 as soloist in the world premiere performance of his own First Piano Concerto at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he is still enrolled as a student.

Meanwhile, equally dominant in recital, this winter Trifonov performed Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes alongside works by Ravel, Debussy, and Stravinsky for his return to Carnegie Hall’s main stage, his appearance at Portland Piano International, and his Orchestra Hall recital debut, which was presented by the Chicago Symphony. The New York Times praised “his uncommon technical gifts and poetic sensibility,” and admired his ability to “create delicately shaded colors that appeared suspended in time.” Oregon Live observed:

“His technique was masterful from the beginning, eliciting colors that changed as though with a twist of a kaleidoscope. … Even in his most poetic, lyrical moments, you felt that anything might happen. … Beginning each piece on the residual energy from the last with barely a pause, he made each set a roller-coaster ride with an exhilarating finish.”

In the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein declared:

“The pianist went from strength to strength. … This touchstone romantic work [the Symphonic Etudes] evinced a sovereign technical command, suppleness of line, and unusually wide range of moods and colors that kept the listener engrossed in the interpretation rather than casting any showy light on the interpreter. Any pianist who chooses to deliberate as lovingly as Trifonov did over the posthumous variations Nos. 4 and 5 would risk becalming the interpretation. But Trifonov made these reflective pieces just the lyrical resting-place that was needed before the eruptive brilliance of the final four etudes swept the music to a triumphant conclusion.”

These recital skills may be heard on the pianist’s new album, Trifonov: The Carnegie Recital, which marks his first release as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist and is generating considerable Grammy buzz. In a five-star review of the new recording, London’s Telegraph marvels: “The playing testifies to a maturity of technique and vision remarkable in a musician who was only 21 at the time. … The key thing here is that Trifonov can harness his digital strength, stamina, and skill to a highly developed sense of the music’s expressive substance.”

Next season, Trifonov looks forward to another full schedule of American engagements. In addition to three further solo recitals and a nine-stop duo recital tour with Gidon Kremer – both of which take the pianist back to Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium – Trifonov looks forward to playing Shostakovich with the Cleveland Orchestra, and to showcasing his Rachmaninoff skills with the New York Philharmonic, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, and in his Dallas Symphony debut.

Further details of Daniil Trifonov’s upcoming engagements are provided at his web site: daniiltrifonov.com.