CONCERT REVIEW | Gidon Kremer and Daniil Trifonov See Eye-to-Eye at Koerner Hall

By Colin Eatock on January 21, 2015

Kremer Trifonov recital
Kremer Trifonov recital

Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer is more than four decades older than the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov – but they saw eye-to-eye in their Thursday evening recital at Koerner Hall. The varied program started well, and only got better when the duo was joined by cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite.

Delicacy was raised to foundational principle in Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E Flat K. 481, which opened the recital. And although the Kremer-Trifonov duo’s idea of “allegro molto” wasn’t very “molto,” they established a charming tempo that served their purposes well. Rejecting the role of the “great virtuoso soloist,” Kremer matched his playing with Trifonov’s – and the result was an elegantly poised balance. In the second movement, Kremer sung sweetly on his violin. And the final movement was lively and festive, with some light and even playing from Trifonov.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin followed the Mozart. Weinberg (in case you don’t know) was a Polish Jew who spent most of his life in the Soviet Union. His music has become a “niche-fashion” in recent years – and his extensive oeuvre includes several unaccompanied sonatas for stringed instruments.

The sonata Kremer chose to play is in seven short movements – that run the gamut from clever and capricious and to angry and frenetic, and many other things. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to share Kremer’s love for the piece. Although I’m sure he played it as well as could possibly be played, its thin textures and mid-20th century harmonic language (reminiscent of Shostakovich) made for a very dry musical experience. The most successful movements were the last two: virtuosic outbursts of multiple-stops and jagged rhythms that impressed through sheer energy.

Schubert’s Fantasie in C Major inhabits a very different (and much more endearing) sound-world than Weinberg’s austerities – although, like the Weinberg, it’s composed in seven contrasting sections. From the opening, Kremer and Trifonov took an understated approach – something like their Mozart, but with a veiled, mysterious quality. This Romantic sensibility wove its way through the performance: it was inward looking, yet expressive.

The second half of the program was entirely given over to Rachmaninoff’s expansive Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D Minor. Joined by Dirvanauskaite – a young Lithuanian cellist – the three musicians formed a tightly unified ensemble. Together, they made dark, rich and solemn music, with sequences gradually building up to glorious climaxes. The second movement ebbed and flowed like a river of music. And the third movement was bursting with pianistic intensity – matched by the violin and cello – as though Trifonov were channelling Sergei Rachmaninoff himself.

In a sense, it would be fair to describe Trifonov as protégé of Kremer. The esteemed violinist has taken the young Tchaikovsky Competition Gold Medalist under his wing, performing with him in prestigious venues throughout Europe and the USA. And no doubt, Trifonov is learning much from Kremer in their rehearsals. But in performance, they’re very much equals – not just in ability, but also in shared musical values. Theirs is a refined, sophisticated approach to music making, and there’s nothing gratuitously showy about it.

Colin Eatock

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