While I have no idea if young Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) will eventually become one of the world's greatest living musicians, I do know that as of today he is surely among the best we have. Since 2010 he has won numerous awards and recorded over half a dozen albums, all to a well-deserved acclaim. In this current recording, he offers a tribute to his "musical idol," Sergei Rachmaninov, with the piano-and-orchestra Paganini Variations, the solo piano Chopin and Corelli Variations, and the pianist's own solo-piano composition, Rachmaniana. They give us a pretty good idea of the man's skills at the keyboard.
Trifonov begins the program with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 43, the concertante Rachmaninov wrote in 1934. It seems only appropriate that the Philadelphia Orchestra (under the direction of its current musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin) accompany the pianist, as the Philadelphia had premiered the work and made the first recording of it (both with the composer himself at the keyboard and under the direction of Leopold Stokowski). Rachmaninov based the score of his Variations on the twenty-fourth of Niccolò Paganini's solo violin Caprices.
Trifonov shows a good deal of flexibility in the variations, handling the faster sections with a dazzling virtuosity. If I have any reservation at all, it's that he doesn't always give the slower sections their due; this is one of the quickest set of variations I've yet to hear. Not that Trifonov doesn't usually infuse the music with a wonderful spark and sparkle; it's just that I wished he were as lyrical throughout the set as he is in, say, Variations 11, 12, and the famous No. 18, where he glides through the notes as gracefully as anyone.
Next, we find three works for solo piano. The first of these is Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22, written in 1902-03. After that is Trifonov's own short, five-movement suite, Rachmaniana, which the composer-pianist wrote when he was eighteen. Finally, we get Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42, written in 1932. The latter score comprises twenty-variations, the theme, an intermezzo, and a coda-finale. Interestingly, it appears that Corelli didn't actually write the theme on which Rachmaninov based his work but borrowed it himself for a set of his own variations. Although Trifonov has, for me, a rather heavy hand in the Chopin, he seems to know his own work very well, indeed, and it flows freely and easily. In terms of playing and interpretation, the Corelli appears somewhere in between the other solo pieces. It's quite satisfying.
Producers Misha Aster and Sid McLauchlan and engineers Tim Martyn and Charles Gagnon recorded the music at the Academy of Arts & Letters, New York City, and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, in March 2015. The resultant sound is quite good, with a warm, realistic presence, a wide dynamic range, and very strong bass impact. In the piano-and-orchestra selections, the piano appears well balanced with the other instruments, not too far out in front and not lost among the other players. As usual with DG recordings, the piano sounds very natural while retaining a good deal of clarity and bloom. The whole affair is still a bit closely miked, though, and a little thick, with a somewhat restricted depth of image. Still, there is a pleasant, lifelike quality to most of the sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: