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Pianist Daniil Trifonov rocks Soka with Liszt

Daniil Trifonov
Orange County Register

The young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov gave one of the most extraordinary solo recitals this listener has ever heard Sunday afternoon at Soka Performing Arts Center. Judging from the audience’s reaction afterward, everyone felt much the same as I did. The boy can play.
Trifonov, just 24 and making his first appearance in Orange County, already comes with a long and impressive résumé – winner of the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein piano competitions, record contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a series of recitals at Carnegie Hall and the breathless commendation of none other than Martha Argerich.
On Sunday, his program was daunting enough on paper alone: Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor as transcribed by Liszt; Beethoven’s final piano sonata, Op. 111; and not one, not two, but all twelve of Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes,” more than an hour of music by itself.
They are among Liszt’s most difficult-to-play pieces, from a technical standpoint, his own answer to Paganini’s Caprices for violin. The title in French is more specific – “Études d’exécution transcendante” – in other words, one’s technique must be transcendent to play them. Musically speaking, they are not invariably of the highest quality; they are bombastic, grandiose, verbose, ornamented to within an inch of their life, more icing than cake. But they are never less than entertaining to hear, and to watch someone play.
Trifonov tore into them relentlessly, a pugilist on the verge of a knockout. The tone was colossal, rich fortissimos without brittleness. His pianissimos were haloed. Technically, he had such command of the pieces that he could toy with them, speed up or slow down at will, nudge notes with straight fingers, and even with the side of his fist. He managed a hyper-smooth legato, gossamer lightness, super-slow-mo without stalling.
What was perhaps most impressive was that he had the measure of the work musically. This was a Horowitzian reading, a theatrical performance first and foremost that never forgot that Liszt was after creating sensation. I clocked it at 65 minutes and Trifonov never let up, or tired.
The first half of the program showed that Trifonov was no Bachian with kid gloves. His account of the Fantasia and Fugue was big and robust, evoking its pipe organ roots and coming and going in gigantic, crashing waves of sound.
His delicate encore (after the Liszt) was Medtner’s “Alla Reminiscenza.” Not incidentally, Trifonov smiled sweetly in response to the thunderous ovations, just a kid without airs enjoying himself. Remember the name: Daniil Trifonov. It’s pronounced dan-EEL TREE-fon-ov.  Read the rest of the review here