The true heir to Horowitz and Richter

07.07.16
Daniil Trifonov
StandPoint Magazine

The first time I heard Daniil Trifonov I wrote that he was “a pianist for the rest of our lives”. This is the rarest of species, an incontrovertible elite. Vladimir Horowitz defined the breed when he burst onto the West in the 1920s with dazzling fingers and an air of fragile permanence. Sviatoslav Richter, impermeably private, left a similar impression when the Soviets finally let him out in 1960. 
Nameless others flattered briefly to deceive. Dozens more enjoyed delirious success and an adoring public. But Horowitz and Richter were the rainmakers of the piano, the ones who changed the weather. And I had no doubt, on first hearing or since, that Daniil Trifonov belongs to that mighty handful, that exclusive kuchka of colossi.
What is it about Trifonov that sets him apart from all other pianists? He is, on first sight, the least modern of artists. He wears a dark suit, black tie, often uncomfortably. On stage, he hunches over the keyboard, unaware of the audience. If he uses a score, he is quicker to turn pages than the fastest of attendants. He makes no pause between pieces, stifling applause for an hour or more. 
In return, he delivers a modern benefice, the kind of concentration that has all but vanished from our tweet-shattered attention spans. The tension when Trifonov plays is breathless. And, within that grip, he finds narrative where none previously existed. He is the first pianist I have ever heard who plays a set of Chopin Études as if reciting for the first time a Tolstoy novella.
The sound is almost secondary. He often prefers a Fazioli piano to a Steinway, finding its clipped precision best suited to his cloud formation of sonority and silence. No musician since John Cage has used silence so creatively, or sound with such economy. No point asking Trifonov where this idea comes from: it is inimitably his own. 
The focus can be terrifying. In a power-cut concert with Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra, Trifonov carried on playing his part long after the lights went out. Twice I have seen him play with serious injuries. On the first occasion, he tripped on a step, coming out of a yoga session, and suffered mild concussion. On the second, he played a full Wigmore Hall recital in surgical strapping after damaging his wrist in an over-enthusiastic photographic session for his record label.
I sat with him once at dinner after an arduous concert, urging him to eat more than half a desultory lettuce leaf on his plate. Daniil said he felt no hunger. He had worked all morning with a technician trying to “voice” a Fazioli for the 2,788-seat, acoustically frigid Royal Festival Hall. By noon he was talking of trying a Steinway when the Fazioli man finally came up with the right balance. The rest of the afternoon was spent testing it. By 5pm, when Daniil was satisfied, it was too close to the concert to take more than a sip of water without risking discomfort. Afterwards, he was too uplifted to eat. The immersion in music renders him oblivious to most human urges. He is a one-off. Read the rest of the review here