It is becoming increasingly rare to read criticisms of the young Daniil Trifonov, the 21 year-old student of Sergey Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post, among others, have rendered laudatory reviews of the young artist, adding credibility to Trifonov’s appeal and preparing his ascent in the world of music. His concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, with Giancarlo Guerrero and the visiting Russian National Orchestra, were the third and fourth occasions on which we observed Trifonov at work over the past year.
What has undoubtedly made an impression on this listener, time and again is the irrefutable musicianship and devotion towards the composer. By legitimate means, Trifonov seemingly has at his disposal an infinite variety of tone and touches at the instrument. The feeling is all the more inescapable when one hardly hears a note that isn’t furnished and treated with precision, the utmost respect for the composer's markings. Babayan is doing wonderful things with Trifonov, and in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, given the previous evening, the pianist revealed a thorough understanding of structure, planning and harmony.
The famous opening chords of the Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso rang beautifully through the hall, supported by a carefully weighted degree of percussion. There is a natural, healthy sense of breathing to Trifonov’s phrasing, as evidenced in the Andantino semplice, where rubato was carefully held in-check and phrases were tapered-off marvelously. It was rather telling, midway through the Allegro con fuoco, when Guerrero turned his body from the orchestra and watched, incredulously, as the pianist unraveled the composer’s fill of interpretative and technical problems with rare musicality. We have heard Trifonov perform the Chopin Etudes with ease, and it was clear that the pianist had no intention of winning the octaves race on this night, deferring instead to a musical approach that was studied, heartfelt and authentic.
Of course, it is the appeal of the final product, the sum of the parts that has won larger audiences over. No doubt Trifonov dazzles with a virtuoso’s equipment, a facet of his craft that was made clear in Sergei Prokofieff’s Piano Concerto No. 3; frankly, you cannot play either work without a proper understanding of gravity and the mechanics of the instrument. But Trifonov does not deceive his audience or exploit his facility with mere vulgar displays of showmanship. His treatment of the Andante was at times ethereal, a study of gradients in pedaling, producing proper voicings of harmony. The pianist’s rhythmic knife was also remarkably in-sync with Guerroro’s fine orchestra, which offered ravishing moments of beauty in the Tema con variazioni, marked also by clarity. The coda in the Allegro ma non troppo left audience members and pianists shaking their heads in disbelief, the young man’s marksmanship proving a mere foundation for the poetic fury, musical distinction and feeling of joy.
For many, Trifonov is a breath of fresh air. In the words of a jury member following the 2010 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, “He is really a very great talent and plays in a very natural way. There is really nothing artificial there. Daniil Trifonov is a name that we will hear again many times in the future. He will become one of the main pianists for the younger generation,”. In conversation with him, Trifonov revealed that he devotes upwards of eight hours per day at the piano. It is fortunate that Deutsche Grammophone has acknowledged the overwhelming appeal of this artist. Norman Lebrecht called Trifonov, “A pianist for the rest of our lives”, and we whole-heartedly agree.
Our 2012 interview with Daniil Trifonov can be found here.