While my memory is notoriously faulty, I had a strong feeling that I had heard Trifonov play least one of the four pieces on a prior outing. I checked my files and found the program he played at Carnegie Hall on December 7, 2016. To my astonishment, it was identical to the program he played at Caramoor (near Katonah) this last Sunday, July 9. I remember my thinking after the prior concert that his treatment of the last of the eight sections of Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op. 18 was a particularly modern treatment that transcended almost everything else. I felt the same after a second airing. It was inventive, abstract, structured, wildly dissonant, tempered and breathlessly brilliant.
Hearing a repeat of the same works might be a copout for many other pianists, but Tifonov is so exceptional that the second playing was every bit as thrilling and fulfilling as the first and perhaps more so. The selections from Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op 87 continued to display Tifonov’s technique of contrasting soft with loud, fast with slow evident in the earlier Schumann pieces. He opens up the music, making it accessible, almost vulnerable. He draws you in and then surprises with the slowness of slow, the lightness of light, and then jarring you out of that trance with a rush of notes that speeds you to another place entirely. The Preludes and Fugues are no student exercises; they are succinct statements of fear, terror, war, a kind of triumphant march that peters-out, angst, and an existential existence of uncertainty, a veneer of strength covering a background of tremendous colliding forces. In one section we hear in the left hand a lyrical song that sounds if it comes from far ago, from over the hill in the far distance. As it gets closer it leaps into the present with exuberance.
That this music sounds so fresh, so filled with hidden meanings, so many changes of pace, feelings, and sounds; it keeps us keenly aware of each note, each bar and nuance. It is a form of communication honed to perfection. Each note is brought into existence with full exposure to the light; it is rounded and served. Nothing is slurred or slighted. And we listeners are very much a part of this music making. It is made for us. Some musicians treat the audience as an unnecessary encumbrance, as if we are eavesdropping. Trifonov plays for his audience. He presents the music to us. It is a joyful gift.
The same program can be heard at Tanglewood on July 12.