Pianist Daniil Trifonov; ​​Photo credit: www.daniiltrifonov.com

Review by Tristan Savella
Toronto ON February 21st 2020

Daniil Trifonov brings a program of mostly Russian piano music to Koerner Hall

Daniil Trifonov gave an electric performance this past Friday night at Koerner Hall. His program featured a selection of Russian works by Scriabin, Borodin and Prokofiev, as well as one of Beethoven’s most beloved late sonatas. Throughout the recital, Trifonov displayed his control of counterpoint and textures (aided by his masterful pedaling), an extensive palate of sounds and colors, beautiful lyricism and his ability to immediately shift from intimate atmospheres to rabid outbursts of passion and despair. 


​The concert began with a selection of Etudes and Poems by Alexander Scriabin, which included the complete set of Op. 42 Etudes. Hearing these pieces in a collection, rather than the individual works that many listeners know them as, provided us with a different context in which we could appreciate the vast emotional range and complexities (at times, grotesque) of Scriabin’s music. Here, Trifonov fully committed himself to the character and story of each short work, as well as each shift of mood; the performance as a whole was seamless, entrancing and electrifying, and the transitions between the pieces gave listeners a unique experience and appreciation of Scriabin’s music. This Scriabin experience culminated in an equally enthralling rendition of the Black Mass Sonata (his 9th), which was performed after a short break. In this single movement, which for me was one of the highlights of the concert, Trifonov displayed the aforementioned jarring qualities of Scriabin’s music, from the foreboding introduction of motives to the pulsating outbursts of the climaxes.

Without pause, Trifonov connected the bleak, quiet ending of the Black Mass Sonata and went straight into Beethoven’s Sonata In A-flat Major, Op. 110. This connection, along with Trifonov’s atmospheric treatment of the accompanying arpeggios, brought out the ethereal qualities of the first movement. His gift for lyricism was evident in this opening movement. The second movement was approached rather introspectively, particularly in the trio - the traditional extreme contrast of dynamics in the jumping left hand were more subdued in favour of showcasing his smoother treatment of the running 8th notes in the right. In the Adagio/Recitativo, Trifonov took liberty with time to allow each single note to ring. The final buildup, similar to the second movement, was also rather introspective in terms of dynamics and tempo.

The three movements from Borodin’s Petite Suite, which followed the intermission, I had never heard before and they further exemplified Trifonov’s abilities with regards to lyricism and texture. The attractive melodies in these three movements were accompanied by equally pleasing harmonies. These beautiful pieces were a successful addition to the program, contrasting the other Russian selections in its immediately apparent aesthetic nature.

Again without pause, Trifonov linked the Borodin into the first movement of Prokofiev’s 8th Sonata in B-Flat Major. The lyricism in this final war sonata is accompanied by darker, more dissonant harmonies, immediately moving the sound world into a different direction from the Borodin selections. The first movement featured some haunting melodies juxtaposed with sections of toccata-like 16th notes, which Trifonov took at a more moderate tempo to allow for more clarity of each note. The second movement featured a slow, playful theme; Trifonov accentuated the increasing dissonance of the accompanying chords each time the theme returned. In the exhilarating final movement, Trifonov often kept the triplet motive at a quieter dynamic, perhaps to orchestrate a longer buildup to the final explosion. The result was a more “organized chaos,” in comparison to the spontaneous chaos in the Scriabin. Sections of the coda were also played rather quietly, in order to bring out the clarity of the fiendishly difficult repeated notes/octaves in the melody.

Trifonov’s performance was very memorable, particularly his performances of the Scriabin works, which I won’t forget. The Bach encores for me, along with the Scriabin selections, were two highlights of the concert.

The next concert in The Invesco Piano Series features Hélène Grimaud at 3pm on Sunday March 8th 2020 in Koerner Hall of The Royal Conservatory of Music. She will be presenting a program of music by Silvestrov, Debussy, Satie, Chopin, and Schumann. On Friday March 6th 2020 at 8pm the renowned South Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung along with pianist Kevin Kenner will perform sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven, and Franck.


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