To whom much is given, much is expected. The problem for many gifted young musicians is that too much is expected too soon. Not so with 21-year old Daniil Trifonov. With his every appearance the young Russian pianist seems to defy the customary standards of assessment for musicians of his age.
As this recital of Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin demonstrated, age is simply not a factor with Trifonov. He inhabited the music on his own terms, listening to what it told him and filtering it through his own highly developed imaginative fantasy. He is unlike any other “young” musician in my experience. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, the technical display is merely the servant of the musical imagination, and such is his temperamental freedom – always in harness with intellectual control – that the listener can’t help being drawn into his world.
What this recital also showed was that increasingly rare phenomenon: the musician who only “finds” himself in the act of performance, who needs the adrenaline of public exposure to inspire and excite his musical antennae. It’s hard not to be swayed by Trifonov’s almost manic expressions, which somehow add to the agony and the ecstasy of the romantic expressionism he finds in his chosen composers. Not that Trifonov confines himself to such extremes. His Scriabin Sonata No 2 elicited quasi-impressionist delicacy and poetry, though always hinting at hidden depths beneath the shifting surface.
But it was in the Liszt B minor Sonata that he came into his own – a titanic performance, projected with a confidence and relish that masked the music’s ferocious technical challenges beneath a mastery of its tempestuous surges and swings of mood; and without a whiff of exaggeration.
After that, a second half devoted to Chopin’s 24 Preludes could have been an anti-climax. But far from delineating a string of miniatures, Trifonov painted them as constituent parts of a larger canvas, plunging into the driven, demonic numbers while savouring the unexaggerated simplicity of the pearl-like pieces. Next time he gives a solo recital, Trifonov’s promoters should book the Royal Festival Hall. He has the personality – and the sound, and the ideas – to fill it.