By this point, it’s no surprise that Daniil Trifonov, one of the most awesome pianists of our time, can sell out Carnegie Hall. Still, that the hall was packed for the unusual recital program he played on Saturday was a testimony to the trust his admirers place in him. At 27, he is also an adventurer intent on exploring overlooked realms of the repertory. On Saturday it was thrilling to go along on his journey. (A video of the recital is available for viewing on medici.tv, which carried the performance live.)
During the first half, lasting some 70 minutes with minimal breaks between pieces, Mr. Trifonov focused mostly on neglected — you might say orphaned — works by Beethoven and Schumann. He began with Beethoven’s “Andante Favori,” a lilting, lyrical yet elusive piece, and the original slow movement of Beethoven’s mighty “Waldstein” Sonata. The composer was persuaded by a colleague to publish this nine-minute andante separately. (For the “Waldstein,” he substituted a short, stark Adagio that serves almost as a transition between two monumental outer movements.)
The “Andante Favori,” a rarity in concert, unfolds like a rondo. A beguiling theme keeps returning in more elaborate statements, with dramatic detours into contrasting sections, all qualities that Mr. Trifonov brought out in a subtle, nuanced and delicately articulate performance.
Without a break, he then played Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in E-flat, a joyous, sometimes prankish piece that you don’t hear too often. Mr. Trifonov’s performance was so impetuous and slyly charming that the sonata came across with striking freshness: It could have been a four-movement improvisation.
Then he turned to Schumann’s “Bunte Blätter” (Colored Leaves), a real curiosity. The 14 motley pieces of this publication, composed over 13 years, are mostly short, fantastical and quirky. One, titled “Albumblätter II,” is an onrushing frenzy of spiraling runs. “Novellette” is like some eerily relentless march. Yet there is no overall structure to Schumann’s compilation. This was the first time I’d heard them performed complete. While lavishing colorful, dazzling and imaginative playing on each piece, Mr. Trifonov managed to make “Bunte Blätter” seem like a 30-minute, brashly episodic yet dramatically urgent entity.
Then he segued right into Schumann’s “Presto Passionato,” a near-crazed, six-minute whirlwind that the composer had written as the original finale to his Sonata in G minor. Clara Schumann talked him into writing a more understandable, less extreme final movement, which he did. This rejected, hellbent presto has mostly languished ever since. Mr. Trifonov dispatched the score’s tangles of passagework and breathless flights in a performance that balanced fearless command and wildness. I hope someday to hear him play that Schumann sonata with this original finale.
After intermission he played a single 30-minute piece: Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 in B-flat. This program may have officially lacked a new or recent work, though Mr. Trifonov, also a composer, has hardly shirked contemporary music, especially during his Perspectives series last season at Carnegie. Yet, by giving Prokofiev’s Eighth such a prominent place on this program, in such a powerful, searching performance, he made the sonata seem audaciously modern. I especially loved the slightly dangerous quality he drew from the slow movement, which here sounded deceptively beguiling. He tore through the manic concluding movement, his playing exhilarating one moment, terrifying the next.
Though this recital was a workout, Mr. Trifonov had enough stamina for encores: two of Prokofiev’s raw, pummeling “Sarcasms,” and a beautiful account of an arrangement of the slow movement from Chopin’s Cello Sonata.
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