Mompou: Variations on a Theme of Chopin
Schumann: "Chopin" from Carnaval, Op. 9
Grieg: Study, Op. 73, No. 5, "Hommage à Chopin"
Barber: Nocturne, Op. 33
Tchaikovsky: Un poco di Chopin
Rachmaninoff: Variations on a Theme of Chopin
Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35
For any musician, getting their own prestigious Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall is a big deal. And when said musician sells out the large Stern auditorium for the first concert of said series, he has unquestionably arrived. Granted, when the musician is 26-year old pianist Daniil Trifonov, the occasion probably looks like just another step in his meteoric rise in the classical music world, just another evening in yet another concert hall. It also confirms than even in this most elevated sphere, when you’re hot, you’re hot.
To his credit, instead of resting on his already numerous laurels and coming up with predictable playlists loaded with the biggest hits of the piano repertoire, the unstoppable young man with the old soul is apparently planning to continue pushing the envelope with programs that are as ambitious as exciting for the full extent of his Carnegie Hall Perspective, possibly his career.
Accordingly, last Saturday night, his “Homage to Chopin” concert was going to start with variations by Frédéric Mompou, followed by a few bonbons by Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Samuel Barber and Piotr Tchaikovsky, before proceeding to more variations by Rachmaninoff, to eventually wrap things up with – Who else? – Frédéric Chopin himself and his popular Sonata No. 2. No wonder the packed audience was buzzing with great expectations.
At first impression, Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, which were probably the wild card of the evening, may sound low-key and unassuming, but hearing them played by such a sensitive and expressive pianist as Daniil Trifonov readily allows the lucky listener to discover countless impressionist details and subtle contrasts during those busy 25 minutes. The Catalan composer may have been a delicate miniaturist, but he is not one to be dismissed, as this finely crafted and impressively wide-ranging work demonstrated.
The eclectic assortment of four fleeting nuggets by major composers that came next turned out to be fun and enlightening while clearly attesting of Chopin's wide and large influence in less than 15 minutes. The German Schumann was smoothly flowing, the Norwegian Grieg insistently agitated, the American Barber lyrically complicated and the Russian Tchaikovsky vibrantly playful.
After this multi-faceted interlude, Trifonov came back with his own version of the daunting Variations on a Theme of Chopin by Rachmaninoff, which he performed with the perfect balance of thoughtfulness and intensity. I had heard him triumphantly master the monumental Rach 3 two years ago with the New York Philharmonic, so I was looking forward to hear him conquer the only slightly less monumental Variations by himself. And that he did.
Once we were done with the Chopin-loving composers populating the first part of the program, we all took a well-deserved break, and then finally moved on to the man himself with his Sonata No. 2. Although I am a hopeless sucker for his ballads, I have to admit that Trifonov’s terrific reading of the sonata, including an expertly paced, all-around stunning Funeral March, gave me pause and almost made me revise my judgment. He knew exactly when to hold back and when to come out in full force, proving once and for all that a natural virtuoso does not need to show off to impose himself.
And for those of us who felt slightly short-changed with just one Chopin piece, we did not have to worry long because our delirious ovation earned us an achingly beautiful arrangement for piano of the Largo from Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G Minor by Alfred Cortot. An exquisite ending to a memorable evening. Not only has Daniil Trifonov arrived, but he is also here to stay.