They stood and cheered…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

March 7, 2017 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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After hearing Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov play Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto last week in the Opera House, I eagerly anticipated his solo recital last night. I came away not just impressed, but gobsmacked, writes Fraser Beath McEwing.

At the end, the audience stood and cheered.

Daniil Trifonov

Trifinov is one of a crop of brilliant young pianists, many from Russia, who are desperately competing for audiences around the world. In a Darwinian sense, only a few will survive the stampede. For one to stand out in this company he or she must be more than exceptional. That describes Daniil Trifonov. Martha Argerich, one of the world’s leading pianists herself, says “Trifinov has everything – and more”.

At 25 he is in now in demand around the globe, making his appearance in Australia a real coup for those who organised it. He may not pass this way again for some time.

His generously proportioned program at Sydney’s Recital Hall showcased not just an astonishing technique, but also a depth of tenderness and musical understanding one would not expect of a 25-year-old.

Rather than crash-tackle the recital at the outset to establish his fire power, Trifinov showed his other side with a superbly conceived playing of Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood). These 13 short pieces are among Schumann’s most cherished because they evoke a distant childhood remembered, rather than currently lived. Trifinov treated them like small works of art, never rushing, and always leading our ears to the essential scenery. He did this with clarity and legato that allowed tiny droplets of notes to reach right onto the capacity audience. Incidentally, I’ve never seen a classical pianist fill the Angel Place Recital Hall before. Not even the highly popular Stephen Hough or Yuja Wang could do it.

Still with Schumann, it was time for Trifinov to show his blistering technique by tackling the Toccata, Op.7. There is a small number piano pieces that claim to be the most difficult to play, and this is one of them. Schumann actually wrote it with this in mind. Trifinov waded into it with explosive force, but never lost control of the chromatic cascade or the staccato octaves.

Kreisleriana – Fantasias Op, 16 completed the Schumann trio. We now saw Trifinov as the pianist with everything, because this group of eight pieces ranged over quiet introspection to unconventional, unbridled attack. At this point Trifinov’s impressive thatch of brown hair and neat beard looked as though he’d run through rain. If ever a pianist gives himself a physical workout on the piano stool it is Trifinov. He hunches, then goes ramrod upright, then gives a lover’s embrace and, when thunderous volume is called for, does an urgent push-up on the keys and crashes back down again. This is not affectation. It’s part of the performance package and it generates excitement in the audience.

After interval, we went to Russia for Four Preludes and Fugues from Op.87 by Shostakovich (Trifinov added another one, No 4 in E minor for good measure), and Three Movements from Petrushka by Stravinsky. I’m grateful Daniil didn’t play the whole 24 preludes and fugues, because that takes more than two and a half hours. Even the five that he did play used up the best part of half an hour.

Petrushka was the final offering and what an example of volcanic playing it was. What sets Trifinov apart was demonstrated in these three movements. He can be jackhammering and erupting and then, instantly, it will be replaced by tiny tinkling bells or a feathery ornament. Trifinov has an unlimited dynamic range, full of colour.

Needless to say, this was a concert I will long remember and I can’t imagine it being surpassed. But there are millions of kids learning piano around the world (40 million alone in China) so there are probably more Trifinovs to come. But for now, he stands on his own.

Sydney Recital Hall Piano Series 6 March 2017

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels.He is a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.


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