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Ludwig Van
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RECORD KEEPING | Daniil Trifonov: The Magic Of Music/Rachmaninov Variations

By Paul E. Robinson on January 1, 2016

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Daniil Trifonov: The Magics of Music. Documentary directed by Christopher Nupen. The Castelfranco Veneto Recital. Music by Chopin, Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Johann Strauss arr. Trifonov. Allegro DVD A19CND. Total Time: 103.00.

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43. Daniil Trifonov, piano. Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op. 22; Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op. 42; Trifonov: Rachmaniana. Daniil Trifonov, piano. DG 479 4970. Total Time: 79.36.

Daniil Trifonov burst onto the scene a few seasons back and has quickly become the Superstar du jour. Is he the real thing or just a shooting star whose light will soon fade? Too early to tell. But these two new recordings give ample evidence of who he is now and what he is capable of doing.

There is no question that Trifonov has a phenomenal technique. Just watch him tear through his own arrangement of the Overture to Die Fledermaus on The Magics of Music DVD. He hasn’t left much grace or charm in Strauss’ score, but I guess that’s beside the point; he created a vehicle to show off, and the results are electrifying.

The Magics of Music, filmed by Christopher Nupen, includes part of a recital given by Trivonov in Italy in 2014 as far as I could tell, as well as several other outstanding performances, most notably Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op. 22, a work also included in the March 2015 compact disc recording (DG 479 4970). This is a marvelous piece that should be better-known and performed more often. Despite his own “improvements” to the score – a couple of cuts and a repeat of the theme at the end – Trifonov obviously loves the piece and plays with great beauty of tone and expression in both performances.

Born in Russia, Trifonov studied most extensively at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Sergei Babayan, and in The Magics of Music, he performs his own Piano Concerto – unashamedly in the style of Rachmaninov – with the Cleveland Institute Orchestra. I suspect that Trifonov’s vibrant mastery of Rachmaninov’s scores is a combination of talent, hard work and a familiarity honed through the composition of this piano concerto, his own large-scale work in Rachmaninov style. At 24, he seems most at home in the late Romantic repertoire.

Trifonov’s collaboration with Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra also fits perfectly into this program. Rachmaninov himself often played with the Philadelphians and together they gave the premiere of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. In fact, there exists a self-recommending reference recording (1935) of the Rhapsody played by Rachmaninov with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Stokowski. Getting as close as possible to the source, Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin bring enormous energy to their performance that makes for compelling listening.

The rest of the CD showcases Trifonov without orchestra in two more dazzling Rachmaninov performances. Then there is Rachmaniana, with composer Trifoniv again channeling his great Russian forbear. As in the case of Trifonov’s Piano Concerto referenced earlier, Rachmaniana shows Trifonov steeped in the style of Rachmaninov, improvising, as it were, in the manner of Rachmaninov. While this may be a valuable educational exercise, it is also doomed to failure. Improvisations in the style of Rachmaninov are inevitably inferior to the original. One hopes that Trifonov the composer will grow out of his Rachmaninov phase. In the meantime, Trifonov, the performer, continues to impress with both his technique and his imagination.

Daniil Trifonov: The Magics of Music is available at amazon.ca

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is available on iTunes or amazon.ca.

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Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.

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