Liszt: Transcendental Studies; Paganini Studies CD review – delicacy, dazzle and virtuosity

09.21.16
Daniil Trifonov
The Guardian

Daniil Trifonov has climbed to the top of the pianistic tree so effortlessly that it’s sometimes hard to remember he is still only 25 and has the time and potential to develop even more. As this collection of Liszt’s studies shows, Trifonov is already an exceptionally thoughtful interpreter, with musicianship that more than matches his technical gifts. It would be easy for such a young pianist to use these pieces to showcase his own technique. But while there is never any doubting the brilliance of Trifonov’s playing, that is only the starting point; the delicacy and transparency of his performances are often more striking than their moments of rampaging virtuosity.

The Transcendental Studies dominate this set, and take up the first of the two discs. While these 12 pieces no longer seem as daunting as they once did, and new recordings come along relatively frequently – Kirill Gerstein’s was released by Myrios a couple of months ago, for instance – they are still formidable to play. In the sleeve notes, Trifonov makes the point that they are not really studies, pieces that focus on technical or musical issues, but wider-ranging poems – “existential meditations” he calls them – that trace a spiritual journey, a pianistic hero’s life, and just happen to be phenomenally hard to play.

The two small sets of concert studies are included – the performance of Waldesrauschen, which prefigures so much of what Ravel and Debussy achieved later, is ravishing, the account of Gnomenreigen dazzling and immaculate. This is a exceptional collection of performances.

Read the rest of the review here