Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In review--Russian masterful

Daniil Trifonov, Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky Orchestra
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1
Mariinsky label
Distributor--Harmonia Mundi

While I returned to college in 2007, I relied on classical music for memory retention and for stress-reduction.  I recall listening to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No. 1, along with pieces by Mozart.  The famous concerto seemed as familiar to my ears as melodies from the composer’s Nutcracker Suite.  Now, I’m listening to a new recording by a young Russian virtuoso Daniil Trifonov, who also performs songs by Schubert, Schumann, and Chopin’s Barcarolle.  Certainly, I feel impressed with Trifonov’s wide emotional palette and great dexterity as he interprets Romantic era music representing several countries.  Joining with the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev (no stranger to me), the program’s focus on the recording, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, lands on the piano and the twenty-something talent behind the keyboard.  And yes, Trifonov makes quite an impression.

As a listener, I felt exasperated several times while trying to keep up with all the changes of pace, of intensity, and dare I say, style in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto.  Most famous is the opening with its sweeping romantic mood, but this theme is never repeated, despite its endearing qualities.  Similar to Indian ragas (but not in sound or style or genre), Tchaikovsky explored his musical terrain while painting moods with his orchestration and never easing up on the pianist who requires physical endurance to make it to the end of this movement.  It’s not quite the athletic event as playing Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev’s piano concertos, but it still must feel like running a marathon with fingers.  Alternating between fiery romantic and dreamy light, this movement runs 20 minutes and then it ends on timpani rolls, and horns playing elongated notes.

The second and third movements are not as memorable, but at least give the musicians some respite, especially the lyrical folksy second movement.  If I had to choose two more musical pieces on the recording as favorites, I would choose, Chopin’s Barcarolle which feels relaxing even with its intensity increasing in volume and passion. And I would choose the Schubert song Auf Dem Wasser Zu Singen (don’t ask me to interpret the title), a calm nocturnal piece that recalls Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  All and all, Daniil Trifonov and the Mariinsky Orchestra deliver solid work that’s bursting to the brim with Russian passion.

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