A Vancouver Chopin Society presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on May 8
In 2010, at the age of 19, pianist Daniil Trifonov won third prize in Warsaw’s 16th International Chopin Competition, also winning Polish Radio’s special prize for his performance of mazurkas. On May 8 he appeared at Vancouver Playhouse in a series-ending concert for the Vancouver Chopin Society. Frankly it was a little disappointing.
It was not because he’s an inferior pianist. He’s not—in fact he’s sensational. The let-down was the program, which he seemed to change at the last minute. Trifonov was originally scheduled to perform here on May 1, but he postponed for a week after being invited by the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev to play an engagement with him. That, and Trifonov’s sudden determination to enter more competitions, explains the newly tailored program.
This being the Chopin Society, he played, of course, some pieces by Frédéric Chopin. But not all of the works he chose seemed very substantial, aside from the Grande valse brillante, Op. 18, and for some reason he played only the last six of the 12 Etudes, Op. 25, when they cry for entirety.
One could also have done without the quartet from the 18 short piano pieces that Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky wrote largely out of duty and for money, even though the composer wasn’t really interested in the piano outside of his concertos. Trifonov played them charmingly and with great intimacy, but there appear to be reasons why we never hear these pieces.
Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Minor L108 and Joseph Haydn’s two-movement Sonata No. 56 in D Major, Hob. XVI:42 were affectionate and graceful openings to the concert, and they couldn’t be more different from what followed: Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28, a student work that he changed very little before sending it off to the publisher. Written in 1917, this is a machine-driven piece in one movement revealing a composer with talent to burn, and there was plenty of combustion in the pianist as well.
Trifonov played the whole program from memory, including Franz Liszt’s famous Mephisto Waltz No. 1 in A Major. His command of it was awesome, his fingers flying over its granitic, demonic surface, and yet never neglecting the delicacy of its filigree.
As for the half-dozen études from Chopin’s Op. 25, they were done too well to only hear half of the set. The last two, subtitled “Winter Wind” and “The Ocean”, are all but impossible in their demands—such as rapid arpeggios in both hands—but Trifonov pulled them off flawlessly.
Keep your ears open for his name. This is a major star on the horizon.