Two years ago, Daniil Trifonov won prizes at three of the most prestigious international piano competitions — a third, two firsts and a grand — from judges who themselves adorn the pantheon of pianists. Since then he has been playing all over the world, having jumped straight to performing with top orchestras in Vienna, Cleveland and New York.
Now 22, he paid a quick visit to Seattle Tuesday (he flew out right after the concert) for the UW President’s Piano Series, and from the start, he made it clear why he is regarded so highly.
His is an immense talent; not just the technical side, which these days goes without saying for young musicians on the concert circuit. It’s his musicianship that sets him apart.
In his hands, Chopin’s 24 Preludes were complete miniatures, each defined by its character, and each quite different. His fortes were definitive but never forced, his pauses considered and shaped, his soft notes seemingly caressed out of the piano, at one moment sounding dreamy, another like cascading water, his pedal work judicious and just right for the music and all his playing with a wide expressive palette that was never overdone.
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The music came alive in a performance that was both profound and exquisite, and the highlight of the evening.
Trifonov followed Chopin with his own “Rachmaniana,” which he composed at 18 and listed as his Suite No. 1. He has done much of his musical study at the Gnessin School in Moscow, and it was clear he has a deep understanding of the Russian school of composition. This work is unmistakably an homage to Rachmaninov, though with a few harmonies that would have sounded unusual in the older composer’s work. It requires great technical expertise, which Trifonov has without question, and it will be interesting to see what he composes in years to come.
Lastly, he performed Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin. It was another fine performance, intense and powerful one moment, singing serenely or in propulsive torrents the next. While this tied together the previous pieces on the program, there was a little too much sameness with his own work just played. It would have been perhaps a better choice to have chosen a different composer, even if Trifonov stuck to a Russian theme.
For his encore before the enthusiastic audience, Trifonov played a transcription of Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”
Trifonov is an outstandingly gifted musician, and it will be exciting to see him continue to develop. He will be back, I hear, to perform with the Seattle Symphony, though not next season.