New Classical Tracks: A Carnegie Hall Debut

by Julie Amacher
February 19, 2014

Listen New Classical Tracks: Daniil Trifonov, 'The Carnegie Recital'

Daniil Trifonov - The Carnegie Recital (Deutsche Grammophon 001989102)

When Carnegie Hall opened in May of 1891, horse-drawn carriages lined up for a quarter-mile to see the famous Russian composer Tchaikovsky conduct that evening. More than a century later, the prestige of performing in this legendary concert hall continues to draw the world's greatest artists, including a 22-year-old Russian who made his Carnegie Hall debut one year ago. That mesmerizing evening was captured and recently released on this new recording.

Pianist Daniil Trifonov's career has skyrocketed since, at age 20, he won first prize at both the Tchaikovsky and the Rubinstein competitions in 2011. Trifonov's performances combine flawless technique with incredible depth and sensitivity, attracting fans like pianist Martha Argerich who declared, "He has everything and more, tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that."

Now you know what made Trifonov's Carnegie Hall debut so memorable: At the heart of his recital is Franz Liszt's monumental sonata in B minor.

"Well, first of all, this sonata presents such amazing depths for explorations," Trifonov explains, "and every performance there is always something new to find and something new to say. This composition in many ways is a mystery, but it requires incredible demands, both technical and also lyrical and compositional. The climaxes which Liszt reached both in lyrical parts and in the more furious, more dramatic parts are just insanely amazing."

The program also integrates Alexander Scriabin's Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, Op. 19, with Chopin's 24 preludes. "This is an earlier work of the composer and there you can hear certain influences, especially of Chopin, whom he tremendously admired," Trifonov says. "For example, you can even find similarities with Prelude No. 12 which is also written in G-sharp minor. You can listen to the twelfth prelude and the finale of the second movement of the sonata of Scriabin to see all the links and connections in terms of harmony and character."

Trifonov says Chopin's 24 preludes are probably the composer's most complex and most personal work and one that he prefers to play as a complete cycle. However, if pressed to choose a favorite, Trifonov says there is something magical about the Prelude No. 13 in F sharp major. "Chopin treats also tonality as an incredible tool for musical imagination, musical expression and that is probably one of the preludes where he found such an incredible inspiration in the tonality himself," Trifonov says. "He created such an amazing atmosphere, which is great both to play and to listen."

When playing the music of Chopin, Trifonov says it's important to be spontaneous, especially where the rubato is concerned. "So rubato can be described as awareness of multiple layers of time, from short-term to long-term planning and mixed with spontaneity — that's probably the way to describe it," he says. "Flexibility is probably one of the key points to a natural sense of rubato phrase. With any constriction of the muscles of the hand, there might be certain blockages of time control during the performance. When there is flexibility, you can manage in a more natural way the question of timing in the music."

And, Trifonov adds, the best way to increase flexibility is to practice underwater. "Usually before a performance the player is warming up. Sometimes there is no piano around, so he has to find something to play, sometimes it is just playing in the air," he says. "But once I was swimming — swimming is one of my hobbies — and during swimming, I was thinking, what if I tried to practice underwater? And afterward I felt the shoulders open up ... Later I learned that such type of practice is used by some conductors. So I was happy to realize that I am not alone in this exploration."

The Carnegie Recital featuring this rising Russian star is something you will definitely want to explore. 

Daniil Trifonov: Chopin - Prelude No. 8 in F sharp minor (courtesy Deutsche Grammophon)