The Carnegie Recital Daniil Trifonov
Label: Deutsche Grammophon (DG)
Artist: Daniil Trifonov
Composer: Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Nicolai Karlovich Medtner (1880-1951)
Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)
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- Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915): Piano Sonata No.2 In G Sharp Minor, Op.19 Sonata Fantasy
- 11. Andante07:05
- 22. Presto03:26
- Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Piano Sonata In B Minor, S.178
- 3Lento assai - Allegro energico11:13
- 4Andante sostenuto07:37
- 5Andante sostenuto - Lento assai10:59
- Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849): 24 Préludes, Op.28
- 61. In C Major00:38
- 72. In A Minor02:03
- 83. In G Major00:49
- 94. In E Minor01:40
- 105. In D Major00:32
- 116. In B Minor01:51
- 127. In A Major00:47
- 138. In F Sharp Minor01:39
- 149. In E Major01:30
- 1510. In C Sharp Minor00:28
- 1611. In B Major00:38
- 1712. In G Sharp Minor01:11
- 1813. In F Sharp Major03:08
- 1914. In E Flat Minor00:32
- 2015. In D Flat Major (Raindrop)05:24
- 2116. In B Flat Minor01:04
- 2217. In A Flat Major02:58
- 2318. In F Minor00:50
- 2419. In E Flat Major01:06
- 2520. In C Minor01:29
- 2621. In B Flat Major02:15
- 2722. In G Minor00:40
- 2823. In F Major01:06
- 2924. In D Minor02:43
- Nicolai Karlovich Medtner (1880-1951): Four Fairy Tales (Skazki), Op.26
- 30No.2 In E Flat Major - Molto Vivace01:25
Info for The Carnegie Recital
Carnegie Hall Recital Debut: For over 120 years, New York’s Carnegie Hall has been the site for magic moments, with a special status reserved for notable debuts, from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles. When young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov made his main-stage Carnegie Hall recital debut before a packed house in February 2013, there was indeed a sense of electric anticipation. Winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv the same year, Trifonov had already created a stir among connoisseurs; on the occasion of his first Carnegie recital, that anticipation gave way to the thrill, fulfillment, and delight of a full-fledged triumph.
For those in attendance that February night, there could be no other conclusion: this pianist – his boyish face and frame belying his command as a performer – was more than just another prize-winning prodigy. Blending extreme technical facility with a poetic refinement vastly beyond his years, here was a phenomenon. No less an authority than Martha Argerich has said of Trifonov: “What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.”
Born in Nizhniy Novgorod in 1991 and raised in a musical family, Trifonov became a devoted musician from an early age. He trained in the renowned school of Russian pianism, first at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow with Tatiana Zelikman, then with Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The main programme of his Carnegie debut recital presents the quintessence of the tradition to which he is heir: Chopin’s 24 Preludes op. 28 (1839), Liszt’s Sonata in B minor (1854) and Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 “Sonata-Fantasy” (1897), a chain of Romantic works with a kindred spirit, by composers who were themselves all piano virtuosos in their own right. It is repertoire of both deep substance and sensual allure, ideally suited to an artist of finesse as well as force.
Beyond his keyboard mastery, Trifonov is also a gifted composer in his own right: there is a dynamic, almost improvised quality to his performance of the works of his Romantic predecessors. He speaks of how the richness of the Romantic piano literature means that the music can be interpreted in myriad ways, not only from performer to performer but from concert to concert by the same performer. “So much can depend on the acoustic, the piano, the audience,” he explains. “A pianist will make spontaneous decisions of character or tempo in the moment. It’s a different story every night. But the magic of Romanticism is the intensity with which the music can provoke emotions in the heart of the listener.”
One of Trifonov’s teachers at the Gnessin School owned a vast collection of historical LPs, and the young student marveled at the great example of the “titans of the piano”. Trifonov was especially taken by Horowitz and Cortot in Chopin. He says: “They were very different pianists, yes, but both had an incredible sense of time and rubato, the effortless breathing of a phrase – this was a great lesson for me.” In Scriabin, it was recordings by Horowitz, Heinrich Neuhaus, and, especially, Vladimir Sofronitsky that made an impression on him: “These pianists had such different visions of Scriabin’s colours and harmonies, with so much to say in their own way.” Among contemporary pianists, Trifonov particularly admires Radu Lupu, Grigory Sokolov, and Martha Argerich. Along with the “improvisatory atmosphere” that Horowitz was able to conjure in Liszt’s Sonata, Trifonov loves Martha Argerich’s DG recording for its “drama and intensity”.
Regarding his landmark Carnegie debut, Trifonov admits to having felt “an altered sense of reality” as he walked onto the hallowed stage of the Stern Auditorium that night; but he recalls vividly “the amazing acoustic on stage – it allows a performer to equilibrate colors, tones, shades, dynamics, character.” The instrument, too, was special. “The best pianos”, Trifonov explains, “have character but are also flexible, so they can be like a mirror that reflects the soul of a performer. The Hamburg Steinway I played here was such an instrument.” And finally, there was the notoriously demanding New York public, which, the pianist remembers with a smile, “listened with attention and enthusiasm. Even without an audience, in rehearsal Carnegie gives off such an atmosphere; but when the listeners come in, they create this excitement that gives energy – wings – to the performer.”
For those who witnessed live that Carnegie recital in February 2013, the audience’s excitement was more than just the pleasure of an exceptional concert or the partaking in a professional rite of passage; rather, the hall – carried on Trifonov’s mesmerizing wings – was charged with a palpable sense of momentousness, the unanimous recognition of a major career taking flight. The present recording documents and shares that unique occasion, when Trifonov inscribed his name in Carnegie Hall’s register of legends.
“Portions of the Liszt B minor Sonata surge and roar like a hydroelectric power station. Filigree lines in Scriabin’s Sonata Fantasy in G sharp minor decoratively glint in the moonlight. In between the gorgeous spurts we need more glue to help camouflage the music’s episodic structures.” (The Times)
Daniil Trifonov, piano
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 2013
Talent contests are unpredictable, that's why we watch them. Even the ones that are rigged by judges or manipulated by media owners manage to command our attention for the possibility, faint as it may be, that a genius will emerge from nowhere to assert an irrefutable superiority and claim the crown.
That's not quite how it panned out at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. A state event bedevilled from the outset by every kind of chicanery was being cleaned up by the conductor Valery Gergiev and the retired Van Cliburn boss Richard Rodzinski. Their remedy was to stream every session online, worldwide, so the public could form a view at the same time as the judges. From the first round, as we tuned in, it became apparent that there was only going to be one piano winner.
Daniil Trifonov, 20 years old, displayed the artistry and authority of a seasoned master. Less a competition than a coronation, the Tchaikovsky awarded Trifonov not just the first prize and gold medal, but the audience award, a Mozart citation and the admiration of Gergiev, who demanded to conduct his first live recording. If ever there was a runaway winner, this was it.
Trifonov had come third nine months earlier in the Chopin competition in Warsaw and first, weeks before, in the Arthur Rubinstein in Tel Aviv. He was well on his way to an international career. But what we saw and heard in Moscow was a manner of playing that set him, by an invisible cordon, six inches apart from every other living pianist. To describe what he does is not easy. Martha Argerich speaks of a 'demonic element', modified by a unique tenderness. I observed an ethereal detachment, allied to an almost preternatural symbiosis with his audience.
Some weeks after the competition, the lights went out in a new concert hall in Guildford, where Trifonov was playing with the London Symphony Orchestra. The conductor dropped his arms and the orchestra, ears to the soloist, played through to the end. Then, in pitch darkness, Trifonov played solo Chopin, forging a transcendent connection with his audience that none will ever forget.
What has impressed me most is his ability to connect the dots and find coherence in apparently disparate pieces. Where many play the Chopin Etudes as a run of five-finger exercises, Trifonov finds narrative, tells a story, introduces us to a class of difficult characters and tense situations. Hearing him play the Opus 10 set at London's Wigmore Hall, I knew that this was a pianist I wanted to hear for the rest of my life.
Who is Daniil Trifonov? The only child of a pair of musicians who met as university students in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky), he took up a pencil at five years old and started composing. This may have been in imitation of his father, who writes Masses for the Russian Orthodox church, but tests showed that the boy had perfect pitch and he was sent to the best piano teacher in the region.
Having played a concerto at the age of eight, he upped sticks with his family and moved to Moscow so that he could study at the Gnessin School with Tatiana Zelikman, a rigorist who traces her piano lineage to Heinrich Neuhaus, tutor of Richter, Gilels and the rest of the Russian legends.
After nine years, Zelikman sent him to Cleveland to finish his studies with Sergei Babayan, another third-generation Neuhaus pupil. Consistency, tradition and authenticity were the bywords of Trifonov's education. In Cleveland, he knuckled down and worked hard. Babayan told him no pianist had won the Tchaikovsky Competition playing a Chopin concerto. After the victory, instead of hitting the concert trail, Trifonov returned to his teacher to start work on new pieces. 'There is never a time when the teaching has to stop,' says Trifonov.
The only blip in his progress came when, at 13, he slipped on ice on the way to a Zelikman lesson and broke his arm, putting him out of piano action for three weeks. The accident, one suspects, was a huge trauma, but also an affirmation. Trifonov talked about the lay-off to Elijah Ho, of the San Francisco Examiner: 'It was absolute torture for me,’ he confessed. 'Basically, this wasn’t a moment about realizing technique or other things, but about how important music was to me. It was so uncomfortable and so stressful to not be able to play...'
Torn from infancy between composing and playing, this was perhaps the moment when Daniil Trifonov realised that playing mattered most to him in terms of self-expression. That said, he continues to compose, taking lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music and working on his own scores whenever time permits. In a telephone conversation from Tel Aviv, where he returns often by popular request, he tells me that he is writing a piano concerto. He does not let a day pass without touching the piano.
But there's plenty else he's working on, besides. Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs, those shimmering illusions of unattainable beauty, and Arnold Schoenberg's Three Pieces, opus 11, the foundation stones of musical expressionism. He heard the Schoenberg on a Deutsche Grammophon recording by Maurizio Pollini and was smitten. His mind works in eclectic ways, his fingers at their own pace. He broached the Rachmaninov D minor Concerto last season and will follow up soon with the C minor, playing the tougher work first. For his recital debut on DG, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, he plays Liszt's massive B minor Sonata and Chopin's Preludes, opus 28.
But the core of the album is music by Scriabin: the Second Sonata in G sharp minor, also known as the 'Sonata-Fantasy'. Scriabin was a speciality of the tormented Neuhaus, whose wife left him for Boris Pasternak, a Scriabin pupil; when Pasternak died, Neuhaus’s pupil Sviatoslav Richter played Scriabin all night on an upright piano beside the body. The linearity of Russian music is imbued in Trifonov as a matter of first principles.
Success has not gone to his head. Shy, courteous, quick to smile, Daniil Trifonov may never be the life and soul of the party or a public entertainer in the Arthur Rubinstein mould. What he brings to the keyboard is himself, a sensational technique and a sense of destiny. Watch, and you will see that he was born to play. Listen, and be amazed.