LEBRECHT LISTENS | Daniil Trifonov Never Lets Us Down

By Norman Lebrecht on October 13, 2017

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov demonstrates a practice technique of playing while lying down.

Daniil Trifonov: Chopin Evocations (DG)

★★★★★ (out of five)

The 2011 Tchaikovsky winner has lost none of his capacity to surprise. Daniil Trifonov thinks nothing of coming on stage with one wrist in a bandage, no explanation offered, or of asking the audience not to applaud at any time through a 90-minute recital. His powers of concentration are phenomenal and he expects no less from his listeners.

So it would be absurd to expect Trifonov to release a conventional Chopin album of two concertos and some scattered Polonaises. What he offers here are the E minor and F minor concertos, accompanied by the Maher Chamber Orchestra, conductor Mikhail Pletnev, together with a flush of solo reflections by Chopin on other composers, and other composers on Chopin. It’s a challenging and completely original setting for the Chopin concertos and it left me pretty much jaw-dropped from start to finish.

Consider Chopin’s take on Mozart’s ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni. Knowing he would never write an opera, Chopin fools around with a famous aria. Trifonov turns the tables to the point where you start imagining Don Giovanni is a piano suite that somehow gave rise to an opera – until you get to the coda, titled Alla Polacca, when you start believing Mozart was Polish. This is fantasy stuff, music perceived through a room full of mirrors.

Daniil Trifonov
Daniil Trifonov: Chopin Evocations (DG) — 2017

Trifonov follows up with Chopin’s meditation on a Schumann theme, a Grieg homage to Chopin, a blowsy Tchaikovsky tribute and a Samuel Barber nocturne, wickedly anachronistic. The second disc contains a set of Chopin variations by the Spaniard Mompou and a four-hand Chopin rondo that Trifonov shares with his teacher, the inspirational Sergei Babayan. Nothing on this album is predictable, nothing stale. This is what piano recitals must have sounded like before artists were obliged to listen to agents and producers.

Daniil Trifonov: Chopin Evocations (DG) is available at iTunes and amazon.ca.

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