Saturday, February 16, 2013

Two Recitals

There occurred the weekend before last the concert of the year in the Twin Cities.

On Sunday afternoon, February 3, pianist Daniil Trifonov appeared in recital at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center in Saint Paul, and my parents and Joshua and I attended the recital. Tickets were the most sought-after in years; the hall could have been sold to capacity several times over.

Trifonov, only twenty-one years old, is probably already the world’s finest pianist. He has a touch and technique superior to those even of Yevgeny Kissin and Maurizio Pollini—which says much about his brilliance. Trifonov is the first genuine successor to Vladimir Horowitz; in terms of technique and keyboard artistry, Trifonov more or less renders every other living pianist irrelevant. He is the Jascha Heifetz of his age.

Trifonov’s musicianship is that of a man in his thirties, and he appears to have faultless taste, very remarkable for one so young. If he continues to develop, he will take keyboard performance to places it has never been before, and become THE musician of his time, irrespective of category. He is a genius.

Trifonov’s program was centered on Liszt’s B Minor Sonata in the first half and Chopin’s Opus 28 Preludes in the second half. He blew the lid off the roof in both works.

Whether through instinct or learning, Trifonov knows how to realize a work’s “essential connective tissue”, to borrow the terminology of a famous piano pedagogue. Only a handful of living conductors, let alone instrumentalists, possesses this rare gift—and, until Trifonov, not a single living pianist enjoyed benefit of the gift. One must go back decades, to Emil Gilels, to identify a pianist who understood so deeply a composition’s materials and construction—and knew in performance how to realize such materials and construction in so fresh and spontaneous a manner.

Trifonov also has soul in his arsenal, as well as drama—and Trifonov’s sense of drama is not contrived. Not since Sviatoslav Richter has there been a pianist with such natural and convincing command of drama.

I was not the only one floored by Trifonov. My former piano teacher was floored (“the greatest pianist I’ve heard, the finest recital I’ve heard”) and my father was floored (“the most important concert in the Twin Cities since Tennstedt’s Bruckner Eighth in 1988”).

There were four encores—there would have been more if the audience had had its way—and the encores, too, were dazzling. Most jaw-dropping was a keyboard arrangement of the “Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s “Firebird”, dispatched with thrilling virtuosity—and dismaying ease.

The recital began with a performance of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 2. The performance was at a level worthy of Horowitz (Horowitz’s mastery of Scriabin was, I believe, Horowitz’s finest achievement).

We probably shall never again hear Trifonov in the Twin Cities. Trifonov’s Twin Cities appearance was booked well over a year ago; since that time, Trifonov’s fees have mounted to astronomical levels, and his fees are now beyond what Twin Cities presenters can meet.

I hope to be able to hear him in future—many times.


One week ago tonight, tenor James Valenti appeared in recital at the Ordway Center in Saint Paul, and my parents and Josh and I attended the recital.

Valenti is an opera singer, not a recitalist, and he did not attempt Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, which I thought very wise. Instead, Valenti had enough sense to stick with what he knows, and provided a program mixing arias with lightweight songs by composers well-versed in stage music.

Valenti has a major instrument, but he is not yet a finished artist. He was a fine Werther last season in Minnesota Opera’s presentation of the Massenet masterwork, but he was nonetheless a touch awkward onstage and made little of the “Werther” text.

The singer was not in good voice last week. It was one of those nights in which it took the singer’s voice a very long time to warm up—and such things happen, and listeners are generally understanding.

The first half of the program consisted of three arias from French repertory—the principal tenor arias from “Manon”, “Carmen” and “Werther” (the last a substitute for the announced “L’Africaine”)—mixed with songs by Hahn, Duparc and Tosti. The second half of the program was devoted to two arias from Italian repertory—the principal tenor arias from “Luisa Miller” and “L’Arlesiana”—mixed with songs by Bellini, Verdi, Puccini and Tosti.

As a general rule, the arias fared better than the songs. The singer’s voice opened up in the second half of the recital and, for the first time all night, he began to enjoy himself—which, in turn, allowed listeners to relax and to enjoy the singer.

It was not a night to be recorded in concert-hall annals, but I have heard worse—and much of the audience appeared to appreciate the performance more than I, to judge from the enthusiastic applause and standing ovations.

The pianist was Danielle Orlando, Principal Opera Coach at The Curtis Institute Of Music.

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