La Jolla Music Society’s first offering from its current season’s Celebrity Recital Series gave violinist Gidon Kremer top billing—Gidon Kremer, violin & Daniil Trifonov, piano—and splashed the noted violinist’s photo across the top of the printed program. After hearing their Thursday (January 15) performance at La Jolla’s Sherwood Auditorium, however, I might have called the program “An Evening with Daniil Trifonov and friends.”
On the crest of exuberant, highly favorable media approval from Trifonov’s Carnegie Hall recital (his third in three consecutive years) and a guest appearance as piano soloist with the New York Philharmonic last month, the young Russian virtuoso continued to flex his musical muscles and dominate the La Jolla stage by the vibrancy and consummate accuracy of his performance. This calling card won him both the Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein International Competitions in 2011 at the tender age of 20.
Compared to Kremer’s avuncular reserve and aristocratic technique, Trifonov’s approach to Schubert
and Rachmaninoff made him seem even bolder. Additionally, their repertory choices gave the piano unquestioned center stage: Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Piano, D. 934, is more of a virtuoso piano sonata with an ornamental violin obliggato, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 9 (“Trio élégiaque”), is one of the composer’s early works that displays his strength writing for his own instrument and that predictable student inability to craft sophisticated parts for instruments he does not play.
Schubert’s Fantasy gave Trifonov ample opportunity to display his pellucid phrasing and unceasing clarity of tone, especially his bell-like roulades in the piano’s highest range. He drove the work confidently, whereas Kramer offered thoughtful, almost apologetic commentary. The duo did give the finale, which reminded me of a cocky peasant dance, a good run for the money.
Like many of the Trifonov fans in the Sherwood audience, I would have loved to have heard him play Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic two weeks ago, but hearing his account of the Rachmaninoff Piano Trio proved a rewarding consolation prize. Bold and driving but never rambunctious, Trifonov unleashed alternately the composer’s passion and remorse (it was composed as a Tchaikovsky tribute shortly after the composer’s untimely demise) with an unfailing sense of timing and emotional poignancy. Cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite upheld her part of the equation with deftly phrased melodies, attentive ensemble, and a warm sonority. I would have urged Kremer to follow her lead to cultivate a more opulent sonority for this piece.
Trifonov opened the recital with Mozart’s D Minor Fantasy, K. 397, a modestly contructed etude that Mozart never bothered to finish—one of his Viennese admirers, August Müller, probably completed the work according to the musicologist Neal Zaslaw. It proved to be the pianist’s only attempt at understatement. Kremer chose for his solo Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin, a prickly, modernist exercise that unfortunately overstayed its welcome. A little-known Polish Soviet composer, Weinberg (sometimes his name is given as Vaynberg) escaped his native country when Hitler invaded and survived later Stalinist pogroms only because he worked under the protection of Dmitri Shostakovich, who admired his music. When Weinberg’s offerings try my patience, I try to remember the advocacy of the great Shostakovich.
The trio offered a clever, light-hearted encore, Rodion Shchedrin’s “Let’s Play an Opera by Rossini.”
In Zachary Wolfe’s Dec. 30, 2014, New York Times review of the Philharmonic program on which Trifonov played, the critic wrote “On Jan. 23, [Trifonov] returns to Carnegie for a recital with the violininst Gidon Kremer, a nod form a distinguished artist to a rising star.” I would say that Trifonov needs a nod from no one at this point. I predict he will be quite unstoppable in his climb to the top, no matter how many promising Asian newcomers flood the field.