Already hailed as one of the major pianists of the 21st century, the Russian multi-talent gave a powerful rendition of his own piano concerto at the Rheingau Music Festival.
Dark, ominous broodings from the orchestra grow more threatening and intense. Out of the surging miasma, the piano emerges. One hears flutterings reminiscent of Scriabin; absurd, playful figures in the style of Prokofiev; rhapsodic passages à la Rachmaninov; and an insane, brutally muscular cadenza that could have been composed by Shostakovich.
In fact, the late Romantic colors and contours of the piece make it sound as though it could have been written 130 years ago. Yet it dates from 2014 and comes from the pen of the now 28-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.
His residency at the Rheingau Music Festival was concluded on July 16 with the first performance in Germany of his own piano concerto. Accompanied by the Bamberg Symphony under principal conductor Jakub Hrusa, it was warmly, and sometimes wildly, applauded by the audience at the Spa House in Wiesbaden.
At the keyboard, Trifonov performs with total abandon, almost as though in a trance. Thanks to his virile performance style, the piano alone sometimes sounds as mighty as the 100 member orchestra. Motifs and sound textures contrast throughout the three-movement concerto. Figures emerge only to disappear again, like bubbles in a boiling cauldron.
Andreas Bomba, director of the Bach Festival in Ansbach, described "a very heterogeneous piece" following the performance in Wiesbaden. "One gets the sense that he's still searching for his personal style," Bomba added. "But writing new music, like Liszt or and Busoni did, and performing it oneself takes a lot of courage. Who else does that these days?”
Rheingau Festival Director Michael Herrmann was more than pleased with the results of Trifonov's stay as Artist in Residence — which also included a sold-out piano recital, a performance of Robert Schumann's A Minor Piano Concerto with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and an evening of chamber music.
"Every concert was a highlight," said Herrmann. "I consider Trifonov one of the very few artists that one can call a genius. He's certain to enter the Olympus of music history.”
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An introvert, but a romantic at the keyboard
As assertive as Trifonov's playing is, a personal encounter with the artist shows a wildly contrasting side of his personality. "It's not easy to establish contact with him,” said Herrmann. "He's always very introverted.”
For the conductor Jakub Hrusa, authenticity is key when seeking to understand the Trifonov phenomenon: "The way he plays the instrument and lives music is basically the way he is himself," says Hrusa, adding that Trifonov gives everything to the creative moment: "With him, I have a feeling onstage always that he is not only recreating pieces of music, but creating them.”
After much restless activity in the three-movement piano concerto, the piece comes to a triumphant, bright and upbeat conclusion. The last two minutes of joy dispel all the preceding murkiness and shifting currents.
After the applause, the pianist stammered a few awkward words into the microphone and was handed, not a bouquet, but a man-sized potted grape vine, a nod to the Rheingau region's wine-growing industry.
Crowned artist of the year for 2016 by the periodical Grammophon, the highly sought-after Daniil Trifonov is also the winner of an ECHO Klassik and has a Grammy nomination.
Meanwhile, the composer and performer recalls another Russian pianist/composer from the early 20th century — Sergei Rachmaninov. While Rachmaninov's grand arching themes and memorable melodies are not directly echoed in Trifonov's concerto — which is more a succession of contrasting moments than a grand scheme — the very fact that he is being mentioned in the same breath with that earlier multi-talent points to a big future for the still young pianist and composer.
And in Wiesbaden, Trifonov further proved that the Romantic idiom is not exhausted, but instead retains much energy.