by Nick Stubblefield
The words "prodigy" and "virtuoso" get thrown around a lot, so when I arrived at Avery Fisher Hall last week to hear one of Russia's newest piano stars, Daniil Trifonov, perform with the New York Philharmonic, I promised myself I would keep my expectations in check. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by the young pianist: Trifonov won first prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein Piano Competitions, and in 2014 alone performed no fewer than 135 concerts.
The concert - an all-Russian program led by Juanjo Mena, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic - began with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34: a lively, bouncy five-movement piece based on Spanish folk melodies. I loved the heavy use of percussion: the tambourine player, in particular, gets a real work-out throughout. Alternating solos - particularly between the clarinets and strings - underlined the folksy qualities in the piece.
Next, Trifonov took the stage to perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 1. The piece starts with a ferocious series of chords that cascade down the keyboard, grabbing the listener by the collar. Trifonov played with his full body, drawing a monstrous sound from the piano. His back was hunched over, almost cat-like, his face nearly brushing the keys. It was not Trifonov's passionate energy, however, that impressed me the most. His playing could also be sublimely graceful and light when called for, not to mention flawlessly clean. Trifonov did not disappoint: he deserves every ounce of recognition he has received.
After four standing ovations, Trifonov satisfed the audience with an encore of Claude Debussy's “Reflets dans l’Eau” (“Reflections in the Water”), which he played with beautiful delicateness.
The Philharmonic rounded out the program with Tchaikovsky's alternatively moody and hopeful Symphony No. 6 in B minor, the Pathétique. After opening with a lush bed of dense and dark strings, elements of folk song were joyously delivered by the strings, sometimes played in pizzicatto, other times fluidly.
If you missed it, you can catch Trifonov and the Philharmonic one last time tonight at Avery Fisher Hall. Tickets and info available here.