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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Concert Review: The Kid Goes Wild

Daniil Trifonov joins the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. 
Daniil Trifonov displays fearless technique.
Photo by Dmitri Lovetsky © International Tchaikovsky Competition.
To celebrate the 120th anniversary of Carnegie Hall, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra played a five-night stand at the famous venue, focusing on the music of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who conducted the first Carnegie Hall concert in 1891.

Tuesday's fifth and final concert featured the evergreen First Piano Concerto, led with gusto by Mr. Gergiev. Daniil Trifonov, a fast-blooming 20-year old virtuoso and winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, brought fire and skill to the solo piano part. This pianist has technique to burn, an played here at astonishing speed. This was not Mr. Trifonov's Carnegie debut, but judging from the thunderous reception, it may have been the young pianist's coming-out party.

The first thing you notice about Mr. Trifonov's playing is his hands, long, with delicately formed fingers. He opened the concerto with a fierce attack, hunched over the piano as if hacking into a difficult corporate mainframe. For the loping opening theme, the pianist drove the notes hard, playing from his shoulders and driving the work forward. He then raced into the first cadenza, and jaws dropped.

Through three movements, Mr. Trifonov tempered his attack with delicate playing that shimmered through the second movement. The finale, taken at a break-neck speed by Mr. Gergiev, tested the young pianist, putting the artist through his paces and letting audiences hear the potential in this young man. It was not the most technically perfect performance, but the passion and meaning of Tchaikovsky came through in both soloist and orchestra.

Mr. Trifonov's performance met with approval, and he obliged with two encores. The first: a quicksilver performance of Chopin's Grand Valse brillante emphasizing his liquid tone and light touch in the delicate passage-work. The second was a death-defying La Campanella, the treacherous, transcendental etude constructed by Franz Liszt from a work by Paganini. Mr. Trifonov thrilled the audience as he trilled up the keyboard, playing the highest keys (and shortest strings) with ease and speed in a region of the instrument where most pianists fear to tread.

The rest of the program gave Mr. Gergiev plenty of opportunity to show off the abilities of his Russian orchestra, choosing repertory that played to their strengths. The concert opened with three excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet, climaxing in a lurching rendition of "Montagues and Capulets" that made the boards of the Hall shake with the powerful brass and dark-colored cellos and basses.

The concert ended with Shostakovich's muscular First Symphony, which lets the listener hear the sardonic young composer before censorship and despair came to dominate his life. The "D-S-C-H" musical signature ( crucial in his later, coded compositions) is heard, along with piano, celesta and a nose-thumbing timpani solo before the last coda. The short symphony allowed the Mariinskys to end their Carnegie Hall stand with two showpieces. First, Liadov's tone poem Babi Yar. Then, more Tchaikovsky: the beloved Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.