He hunched over the piano, his eyes just inches above his fingers and his straight brown hair hanging down in front of his eyes. Suddenly, with a new musical idea, he moves away, now leaning back and looking up with pensive intensity. His fingers pull the sound of each melodic note out of the German Steinway. The final note of the phrase lands tenderly in place, with emotion dripping from the sound.
Such was the playing of the 27 year old Russian phenome last night at Koerner Hall. Daniil Trifonov has taken the world by storm since he first broke into the limelight with his first place finish at the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition in 2011. He has garnered euphoric praise as a solo recitalist, chamber musician and concerto performer. His playing is marked by a technique that goes beyond incredible finger dexterity to one which includes the utmost sensitivity. He can make the most impossible passages sound and look effortlessly poetic.
Last night in front of a sold out Koerner Hall, with three rows of seats added on stage to accommodate the demand, Trifonov performed a concert of Chopin and Chopin-inspired music. Trifonov is currently on a tour of twenty concerts in Europe and North America promoting his new Deutsche Grammophon recording Chopin: Evocation. Last night’s concert was a make-up date for last year’s program that had to be cancelled when Trifonov lost his passport in New York City. Many of the ticket holders had waited for a year and a half. It was worth the wait!
The program began with the exquisite A Major Prelude of Chopin that every young pianist plays. This prelude was also the theme of Frederico Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin. The feather-light touch of Trifonov’s fingers floated over each chord. His expansive hands played the climactic nine note chord of the theme without the hint of a break. From this delicate opening, Mompou’s music took the listener on a light-hearted 'Chopinesque' journey. A variation for left hand, a mazurka, and a waltz were included. The work built to its climax with a furiously frenetic energy before recapping the original theme, albeit with new harmonies.
A series of short Chopin inspired works by Schumann, Grieg, Barber and Tchaikovsky kept the program in a light spirit. It was the second theme and variations, this time based on Chopin’s C Minor Prelude that gave the program some darkness. Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22 took the listener on a musical and emotional roller-coaster.
The second half of the concert paralleled the first in mood, this time with Chopin’s own music. The youthful composer’s Varations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozarts’ Don Giovanni Op. 2 was a display of brilliance intended to impress. In Trifonov’s hands it delighted. This was followed by the most substantial work of the program, the famous Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 by Chopin. Trifonov took the passionate opening at blinding speed to set up some of the most beautiful melodic passages played as sensitively as one could imagine. The evocative third movement, a funeral march, was performed so slowly and deliberately that goosebumps came over me in the stillness. This was indeed magical playing.
Koerner Hall, Invesco and the anonymous donor who sponsored last night’s concert are to be thanked for allowing us to be a part of such a rare event. Next in Koerner Hall’s Piano Concert Series will be a recital by the young Italian pianist, Beatrice Rana on April 8, 2018. She will be performing a program of Schumann, Ravel and Stravinsky. Tickets are now on sale for Koerner Hall's Tenth Anniversary 2018/19 Season at The Royal Conservatory of Music.
Daniil Trifonovreturns triumphantly to Koerner Hall for a Chopin-inspired extravaganza!
Daniil Trifonov; Photo credit: Lisa Sakulensky Photography
Courtesy of The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 2nd 2018
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