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Chopin and Chopinism

Koerner Hall
01/02/2018 -  
Federico Mompou: Variations on a Theme of Chopin
Robert Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9: 12. “Chopin”
Edvard Grieg: Moods, op. 73: “Hommage à Chopin”
Samuel Barber: Nocturne (Homage to John Field), op. 33
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: 18 Pieces, op. 72: no. 15 “Un poco di Chopin”
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Variations on a Theme of Chopin, op. 22
Fryderyk Chopin: Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”, op. 2 – Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 35

Daniil Trifonov (Pianist)

D. Trifonov
(© Lisa Sakulensky/Courtesy of The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall)

Daniil Trifonov was due to perform this recital at Koerner Hall last March, but he lost his passport so could not enter Canada. The eager audience included many seated on the stage, something I don’t recall happening before in this venue.

Many of the pieces he played are also on his recent 2-CD set for Deutsche Grammophon, Chopin: Evocations. If the opening work, Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, has moments that are redolent of lightweight cocktail lounge noodling, what soon became clear about his playing is a sensuous plasticity with subtle rhythmic support that just doesn’t quit.

The four brief pieces by Schumann, Grieg, Barber, and Tchaikovsky were played without pause. The little suite shows a range of moods, starting with meltingly beautiful Schumann piece, ending with the Tchaikovsky’s skipping rhythm evoking fresh air.

Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin is a 30-minute tour-de-force (despite the absence of the 10th, 18th and 19th variations) with the Russian composer’s epic sense of tonal depth (and pyrotechnics in places) allied with Chopinesque forms. The theme is taken from the C Minor Prelude, Op. 28. It has introspective moments before the grandeur of the finale. Trifonov encompassed it all - the audience was rivetted.

(The work is not that well known. Trifonov’s championing it might just wedge it into wider public consciousness.)

For the second half we turned from Chopinism to the real thing, starting with the delightful Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” which the 17-year-old must have devised with the aim of dazzling the music world - and it worked (it was in reference to this piece that Robert Schumann, his exact contemporary, declared “Hat’s off, gentleman - a genius!”). The tempo indicated for the second variation as Veloce, but with the cheeky ma accuratamente added. (I have never seen this term used elsewhere). I suspect it was Chopin’s way of saying “I bet you can’t do it” - but Trifonov does it, as well as the equally pyrotechinical first and fourth variations (Brillante and Con bravura respectively) along with the third’s lyrical Sempre sostenuto. This delightful work could have capped the evening, but...

The final work took us from Chopin the bumptious teenager to some ten years later when he devised his Second Piano Sonata built upon the funeral march of a couple of years earlier. Trifonov dashed on to the stage and started before the applause had subsided, transfixing us with the varying moods of the opening movement and then the Scherzo, a “joke” with a serious - even ominous - tinge. The funeral march was implacable without being grandiloquent and its lyrical middle section had a piercing sweetness. The Presto finale bubbled up from somewhere very profound, with subtle rhythms that prevented it from becoming simply a swoosh of turbulent noise. A breathtaking performance!

The generous program ended with one encore, Alfred Cortot’s arrangement of the slow movement from Chopin’s Sonata for cello, in which Trifonov brought forth an intimate, conversational tone.

This was Mr Trifonov’s third performance at Koerner Hall. Any future appearance is a guaranteed sell-out.

Michael Johnson



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