After winning two major competitions, the 21-year-old Russian is reaching for piano perfection. Hear him play Chopin etudes, colorful Fairy Tales by Nikolai Medtner and an explosive arrangement of music from Stravinsky's Firebird at the WGBH studios in Boston.
The 21-year-old pianist Daniil Trifonov has been living through the kind of career trajectory that's often called "meteoric." Within one concert season he won gold medals at both the Tchaikovsky and Artur Rubinstein competitions, and a third prize at the Chopin competition.
You may be like me — always prepared for disappointment when a young artist gets marketed by gold medals and hype. But just listen to the first seven seconds of Trifonov's performance at our Fraser Performance Studio in Boston.
The world of Nikolai Medtner comes instantly and achingly alive — a sad and luminous thought with an echo so distant that it has nothing to do with the piano at all. Medtner and Trifonov evaporate, and we're instantly in a realm of heartbreak. To play with that much dimension and to communicate with such a free and profound control of foreground, middle ground and background — that's virtuosity. (And if you do need to look for signs of involvement, watch Trifonov transform in the instant just before he plays.)
There is both suppleness and steel in his long, slender fingers. They seem to never want to fly too far from the keys. He lifts his face on occasion, as if he were taking in the warmth of a private sun. But the expressions are always genuine, with turns of phrase written occasionally on his face.
"Learning never ends," Trifonov told the Fraser audience. He's still a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, yet this young artist is able to transcend the technical mountains and valleys of Chopin's Etudes and lavish them with character and poetry. Agree or disagree with the direction he takes them in, it's impossible to say he doesn't mean it.
Great pianists internalize music so fully that they can seem to flicker in and out of our perception when they play. They create three-dimensional universes and hover around the edges. Only afterwards do we realize how grateful we are that they led us through them. It's one thing to acknowledge the outward signs of a pianist's involvement, the grimaces and grunts. Being ushered into a musical truth? That's what really counts.
- Nikolai Medtner: Three Fairy Tales (A minor, E-flat, B-flat minor)
- Chopin: 12 Etudes, Op. 25
- Stravinsky (arr. Agosti): "Infernal Dance" (from Firebird)
Daniil Trifonov, piano