Trifonov (piano) at Carnegie Hall = Works of SCRIABIN, LISZT, CHOPIN & MEDTNER – DGG

Trifonov at Carnegie Hall = SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp Minor, Op. 28 “Sonata-Fantasy”; LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; CHOPIN: 24 Preludes, Op. 28; MEDTNER: Fairy Tale in E-flat Major, Op. 26, No. 2 – Daniil Trifonov, piano – DGG 479 1728,  (1/28/15) 78:48 [Distr. by Universal] *****:

Appearing on the stage of Carnegie Hall (5 February 2013) Russian piano phenomenon Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) confirms his penchant for the grand Romantic repertory in works of Scriabin, Liszt, and Chopin. Himself an auditor of the classic recordings by luminaries Cortot, Horowitz, and Sofronitsky, Trifonov has consciously emulated their startling combination of technical facility and poetic temperament, the application of faculties simultaneously tender and demonic.

Trifonov opens with Scriabin’s 1898 Sonata-Fantasy, a piece deliberate in its exploitation of liquid effects, moving from a meditative Andante in the manner of Beethoven’s sonata quasi fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2 to the turbulent etude of the Presto movement, an impressionistic evocation of the sea’s having reached, crescendo and decrescendo, to touch the face of the moon. Trifonov demonstrates a vast color palette in the course of this compressed tone-poem, not to mention the blistering speed at which he can consume rapid notes within the bar while executing huge spans, tenths and twelfths, with no loss of articulation.

Something of sinister bat’s wings unfold in the exposition of the 1854 Liszt B Minor Sonata, especially in its tortured trills and plummeting octaves. Trifonov makes us feel how ubiquitous becomes the opening sequence of (Phrygian) scales, the so-called grund-gestalt that dictates the evolution of its own permutations. The often hollow-sound bass line contrasts with the fragrant, uppermost vocal line, so the piano alternately roars, growls, and lulls us into some exalted vision of timeless bliss. The underlying, throbbing pulse remains constant, while furies and cherubim compete for spiritual hegemony. At the piu mosso section, Trifonov enters into the equivalent of the slow movement, a series of meditations that culminate Grandioso, in ecstatic illumination. The repeated notes, especially the fateful Ds, assume a character that virtually transcends good and evil, often in demonic polyphony that resolves into an Empyrean B Major. The breathed spaces between the notes, the exalted sustained line, support anyone’s claim that Trifonov belongs to the distinct circle of inspired Liszt interpreters that include Horowitz, Cziffra, Kentner, Arrau, and Bolet.

Equally indicative of the Romantic temperament, the set of Chopin Preludes (1838-1839) may claim the role of the Rosetta Stone for the keyboard ethos of the Nineteenth Century. Essentially, while traversing the circle of fifths in a manner consonant with Bach, Chopin integrated his entire sound world within these miniatures, the national styles of mazurka and polonaise, even as he explores the more universal mode of the etude, sonata-movement, and nocturne. Even the abbreviated D Major Prelude can shine and flame out, a moment of subjective epiphany. The elusive illumination occurs within the sixteen measures of the A Major, played by Trifonov with a refreshed, refined optimism. The broken chords off the tonic note allow Trifonov to sing an emergent melody amidst the tumult of the F-sharp Minor’s swirls and polyrhythms. Rarely has the F-sharp Major Prelude evoked such melancholy resignation, a true touch of poignant nostalgia. In the course of the E-flat Minor Prelude, we sense how Trifonov might approach the last movement of the B-flat Minor Sonata, Op. 35, whose “wind over the graves” ever unnerves us.

Trifonov does well to create dramatic tension in the lyrical D-flat Major “Raindrop” Prelude, its middle section in C-sharp Minor with its haunted, repeated G-sharp, almost a forecast of Mussorgsky. With six bold chords, Trifonov launches into the Allegro con fuoco of No. 16 in B-flat Minor, perhaps the most turbulently virtuosic member of the set. Now, we recall that the A-flat Major remains the longest of the Op. 28 at 90 measures. The agitated bass line exerts a mesmerizing effect on the hesitant melody, which Trifonov must repeat thrice, each time more infiltrated by an irrecoverable loss. Hans von Bulow nicknamed the F Minor “Suicide.”  The runs in the hands give pain, but the crashing but low A-flat comes as a coup de grace. We must hear Trifonov’s C Minor Prelude with the ear of Rachmaninov, whose fateful bells could barely exist without it. Trifonov’s execution of the double notes of the B-flat Major Prelude are a joy to audition, perhaps the most gallantly realized moment in the set. To make the G Minor Prelude sing proves daunting, but Trifonov manages to turn its turbulence into an introduction to the fluid F Major, one of Chopin’s most purely liquid evocations in keyboard practice in effortless sixteenths. Pure, bleak fate reigns in the D Minor, the fz and fff markings obeyed with a will to stab the most ardent heart.

With a startling gusto, Trifonov concludes with a brilliant Fairy-Tale Etude by Medtner, all syncopes and willful asymmetry, dazzling and thrilling to the Carnegie audience as it is to us.

—Gary Lemco

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