Daniil Trifonov, winner of the Arthur Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky competitions, gave his debut London recital last night. It was packed with people who had watched his competition performances and many, like me, will have steeled themselves against disappointment. A solo recital on a working night can lack the searing, competitive adrenalin of a cup final.
Daniil’s first half was the Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat D960, preceded by two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs. Played on a Fazioli piano with a hardened glitter in the upper registers, Trifonov’s interpretation offered more brilliance than reflective substance.
Depth may be too much to ask from a young man who turned 21 last week (we shared his birthday cake later) but Russians will be Russians and they need to show from the earliest age that they can hammer the Viennese masters and run rings around philosophy.
The second half was another planet. A trickle of Tchaikovsky sentiments preceded one of the most profound and original accounts of the Chopin opus 10 Etudes I have ever been privileged to experience. Daniil reconceived the tricky pieces as a dramatic entity, micro-timing the pauses between one etude and the next to accentuate the attention and give a sense of how Chopin built the set to an explosive climax. Where other pianists pause to wipe their brow, Daniil used silence in the manner of John Cage and the total-serialists – as an element equal to music itself. One hardly dared to draw breath through the set.
This is a major artist, phenomenally gifted and almost fully formed, with fresh ideas and a winning stage presence that is quite irresistible from the moment he bounds through the door and sits at the keyboard, unable to contain his need to share. The legend, too, is spreading like bushfire. Thousands claim to have been there the night the lights went out in Guildford and Trifonov carried on playing his concerto in total darkness. When the orchestra stopped, he played a Chopin waltz.