Review: Daniil Trifonov at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

10.30.14
Daniil Trifonov
Manchester Evening News

By Robert Beale 

He's a name that will be very well known before long. But right now, though his fame is massive in Moscow, Paris and New York, Manchester hasn’t quite caught up: only a few hundred, though highly enthusiastic, listeners greeted the young Russian pianist’s first solo recital at the Bridgewater Hall.

‘The most brilliant pianist I’ve ever heard’ was a comment I’d gleaned beforehand from a widely travelled and discerning friend, about Daniil Trifonov.

That was setting the bar high – but in truth his technical powers are among the most dazzling I’ve ever witnessed, too.

The virtuosity of his playing in the final four of Liszt’s Twelve Transcendental Studies was almost unbelievable.

But there was more to this recital than pure brilliance. Beginning with a Liszt transcription of Bach, and continuing with Beethoven’s last sonata, it was a study of the transcendental in itself – and a reconstruction of the kind of pianism that made Liszt and others pop stars 150 years ago.

Trifonov cuts a slight figure, almost rushing on stage to get on with his task when he appears. For his Bach (the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, transcribed), he sits with back ramrod straight but plays it with a totally Romantic rhetoric, not a Baroque one – grand and heroic to begin and end, betimes dreamy and mysterious, the fugal part-playing exemplary.

For Beethoven he bent tightly over the keyboard, or turned his face heavenwards as if entranced. There’s an old-fashioned showman in Trifonov – but then when was there not in any great pianist?

The delicacy of his softest touch became apparent here, revealing the range of tone he can get and lending the music theatricality that even Beethoven might not have quite expected.

His playing was not flawless – the sort of fistfuls of notes he plays could hardly be totally immaculate, and some might carp about the amount of pedal he brings to studies like Mazeppa in the Liszt set.

But there’s a demonic quality that perhaps only a young virtuoso can recreate (as in Feux Follets) and an aspiration to the superhuman that outshines the ragged edges (as in Vision).

In the end the supreme difficulties of Wilde Jagd were triumphantly overcome, Ricordanza was superbly accurate and very beautiful, Harmonies Du Soir simply amazing, and Chasse-Neige a climax of thunderous tone and buckets of Romantic feeling. There will be more standing ovations like that one.