Arts concert review

Daniil Trifonov Captivates Listeners

An unforgettable Wednesday night

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Pianist Daniil Trifonov performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall on Nov. 15.
Courtesy of Robert Torres

Daniil Trifonov
Piano Recital
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
Nov. 15, 2023
Symphony Hall, Boston

Daniil Trifonov performed for a packed audience on Wednesday night at Symphony Hall in Boston. The repertoire, ranging from the 17th to the 19th centuries,  showcased different aspects of his technical skills and emotional depth, leaving listeners engrossed by his performance.

At thirty-two, Trifonov’s list of accolades is impressive: he is a Grammy Award-winning pianist for Transcendental, a Liszt album recorded in 2018. Not only that, but  in the 2010-11 season, he won  medals in famous music contests like the Chopin Competition and Rubinstein Competition.

Trifonov opened the performance with Rameau’s Suite in A Minor, a piece consisting of many movements that ranged from quiet introspection (“Courante”) to great fanfare (“The Triumphant”). Trifonov did a wonderful job playing the many lines in the piece by ensuring that the layered, polyphonic texture was well balanced. All seven movements were memorable for their unique characteristics, but the opening movement, “Allemande,” stood out the most for its frequent trills. Trifonov played these embellishments gracefully and delicately, which made each sound crystal clear and gave it a fluttering effect that evoked images of a butterfly. In “Sarabande,” he elevated the sound of the trills, transforming them from quiet embellishments to flamboyant, colorful centerpieces. Overall, Trifonov played with remarkable stillness and concentration, inviting the audience to take part in this solitude.

Unlike other soloists who prefer pausing for a minute or two before playing their next piece, Trifonov jumped straight into the first movement (Allegro) of Mozart’s Sonata No. 12 in F Major, a sudden transition from the closing movement in Rameau’s Suite in A Minor. In the Allegro, Trifonov highlighted the striking contrasts between the  playful, light staccatos and the expressive, wave-like legatos. He also executed the sforzando well without overdoing the technique, delivering drastic shifts in dynamics from forte to piano, resembling sudden bursts of energy. He played the Adagio movement slower than expected, but this tempo along with the well-articulated ornaments helped achieve a dreamy effect, making the melody sing. In the last movement (Allegro Assai), his artistry shone through deft fingerwork that played descending sixteenth notes with a winding and breezy quality.

Before the audience could finish clapping, Trifonov started playing Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses. Playing 17 variations in under 12 minutes, Trifonov took the audience on a listening journey that felt like a rollercoaster ride with an increasing tempo and a gradual crescendo. The emotions he expressed matched this rhythm and pattern, from agitation to sorrow. His virtuosity was on display the whole time, from the impressive wide-range arpeggios to the forcefully struck chords that lifted him off his seat.

After intermission, Trifonov performed Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, also known as the “Hammerklavier” Sonata. Trifonov put all his energy into the iconic fortissimo chords, making Symphony Hall feel even more regal. The calm, lyrical melody that follows offered a nice contrast from the bright, brassy sound in the opening. In the second movement, “Scherzo,” Trifonov successfully employed syncopation in the triple-meter notes, causing the melody to have a dance-like quality and eliciting a push-and-pull feeling. While the Scherzo was full of action, Trifonov demonstrated his mastery of legato in the third movement (Adagio) by making the chords sound connected and sustained. By playing with intention, he exquisitely captured the nuanced emotions of melancholy. His trills were like brief shimmers of light, adding variation to the listening experience.

When Trifonov finished playing, many people rose to their feet in a standing ovation, and a couple of front-row audience members gave Trifonov a large bouquet of roses. It didn’t take long for Trifonov to perform his first encore, a work by jazz pianist Art Tatum. He played in such a natural and spontaneous manner that made the performance feel improvised. The audience loved the encore, so after more clapping, Trifonov came back to the piano and played a movement from Frederico Mompou’s Chopin Variations. With its slow tempo and sleepy quality, this piece was an apt choice given that it was approaching 10:30 p.m., making it a marvelous way to conclude the performance.

All in all, Trifonov’s performance offered a respite from the busy weekday, encouraging listeners to enjoy the present moment by immersing themselves in the beautiful sounds of the piano. Watching and listening to him play live was truly an unforgettable experience.