Daniil Trifonov review – a hugely imaginative musical mind

Daniil Trifonov
The Guardian

The young Russian pianist played with refinement, unflinching precision and breathtaking clarity

By Andrew Clements 

We have heard enough of Daniil Trifonov in London over the past couple of years in recitals and concertos to know that, for once, piano-competition judges got things right, and that the winner of the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky prizes is the real deal. Trifonov’s latest recital was his first in the Festival Hall, which wasn’t anything like full for the occasion. But despite the empty spaces – surely a capacity house in the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door would have created an even better atmosphere? – Trifonov made it a special occasion, for there’s never anything automatic or routine about his performances.

That doesn’t mean that everything he does is equally convincing. But not many pianists can play all 12 of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies at a single sitting and make the whole experience so consistently rewarding, nor play so many notes with such unflinching precision without ever producing an ugly sound or a smudged texture. Whether it was the ease with which he spun off the dancing double notes of the fifth study, Feux Follets, the control of his rampaging octaves in the seventh, Eroica, or the sheer lyrical beauty with which he invested the ninth, Ricordanza, all were products of a hugely imaginative and refined musical mind, so that one could easily forgive the very occasional moments when he seemed to lapse into the kind of keyboard assault that so many other younger Russian pianists, especially, seem to think is a measure of their virtuoso brilliance.

Trifonov had made a late change to the first half of his programme. Instead of Beethoven’s C Minor Sonata, Op 111, he had substituted Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op 22, leading into it with Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G minor. And if it was good to hear the neglected Rachmaninov played with such affection and control, it was even more special to hear the Bach fugue unfolded with such breathtaking clarity and poise.