by Steven Pisano
In the Playbill for his solo concert at Carnegie Hall, the portrait of Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov taken by celebrity photographer Dario Acosta shows a groomed young man, hair slicked down, short beard well-manicured, his steady gaze a study in relaxed intensity. And maybe Mr. Trifonov actually looks like this if you come across him anywhere but on stage. But seat him at a piano, and what you will see is a quietly simmering wild man. His hair explodes off the top of his head as he jumps up from his bench like a rock and roll guitarist reeling off a lick. Then he leans over like a hunchbacked drunk, practically kissing the keys. He stretches back like a cat, smiling, almost laughing with joy. Then just as suddenly, he grimaces as if the music hurts. At all times, he looks as if the music is running through him like a high-watt electric current straight to the piano keys.
On Saturday night, Trifonov presented a program called Hommage a Chopin, performing Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 alongside works inspired by Chopin, including pieces by Frederic Mompou, Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Samuel Barber, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. At 26, Trifonov has quickly earned a reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation. His recording last year of Franz Liszt's Transcendental Etudes (Deutsche Grammophon) was named by the New York Times as one of the best classical recordings of the year, while Gramophone magazine named him the 2016 Artist of the Year.
It's always incredibly dramatic and heroic to watch a performer, all alone, give a recital on the grand stage of the Isaac Stern auditorium--just a man and his piano. But Trifonov was more than equal to the task, his touch on the piano ranging from soft as eyelashes to thunderclaps so loud that for an instant it was easy to forget this was a single piano on stage, not a full orchestra. His approach was often more cerebral than emotional, and some of the tempos on the pieces I knew sounded a bit slower and more exploratory in tone. But, it was an extraordinary performance by any measure, and I found myself completely bewitched by this captivating performer.
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