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Trifonov at Carnegie Hall

Music review
by Stephen Kaye
Fri Dec 9th, 2016

Daniil Trifonov

The brilliant Russian pianist who has been travelling the world once again gave the Carnegie audience a generous helping of his talents, concentrating of three composers: Robert Schumann, Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky.  For each, he offered us a range of approaches: the slow and painstakingly studious, and the furious fiery and tumultuous.  These sudden and almost violent shifts—the vivid contrasts—keep us attentive and somewhat confused.  But we have to accept him for what he is—a prodigious talent who sees in the music endless possibilities.

He started off with Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood): 12 scenes or settings, “charming little things” said the composer in a letter to Clara. Some were charming, like the first which was played with a feathery touch that sounded like a lover’s caress. As we progressed the charming sometimes evolves to the stormy that might be frightening—children love a good scare and a good laugh. It was all in the music. We heard a bit more Trifonov than Schumann, as the music was deconstructed and reconstructed in an intensive process of exploration and recreation.

After the twelve charming things, Trifonov turned to Toccata, Op. 7, written to showcase Schumann’s own talents as a solo pianist.  His fingers flew over the keyboard at dazzling speed, but underneath the dazzle one heard the basic theme.

The third Schumann piece was the entire Kreisleriana, another showcase and another mountain to be climbed. Tifanov picked his own path up this mountain. Some may argue that it was too steep, requiring ropes and precipices, whereas there was a gentle path that had been well-trod by others.  The romantic qualities of Schumann were not emphasized; it was mostly pianistic showcase that did not reveal the tender, quietness that one might expect.

The second half was a Russian extravagance: five of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87.  These, too, were played so as to emphasize contrasts. Here I thought the interpretation was apt and engrossing.  

The final offering was three movements from Stravinksy's Petrushka played as a lark: I thought it a free interpretation that was full of excitement, fun, and even clownishness. 

Trifonov pushes the envelope.  Some might say he pushes it too far.  He is not about the composer’s intent, something that I have noted before. He sees in the music possibilities that he explores. He takes risks. He makes music.  He treats us to a musical experience. He gives us new insights; he opens us to new vistas.  He is an artist who relishes his artistry.