For Liszt, the piano was “an object to be transformed into an orchestra, turned into the elements, lifted into the spheres” wrote Alfred Brendel. Often during Daniil Trifonov’s towering traversal of the complete Transcendental Etudes the young Russian succeeded in doing just that. His snowstorm in Chasse-Neige chilled and raged – the piano producing an amazing infernal howling.
The galloping horses careered and thundered in Mazeppa but Trifonov didn’t just stun and amaze, he seduced us with a beautiful limpid tone as when the theme is temporarily tamed and transformed and Liszt asks for it to be sung Il canto espressivo. The contrasted sections in Wilde Jagd were just as sensitively executed while the will-o-the-wisps in Feux follets were nimble, gossamer-light and utterly captivating.
Trifonov was at his finest in the most demanding pieces: elsewhere his formidable technique occasionally tempted him to gild the lily, polish it and then admire his reflection – the pastoral interlude of Paysage for example. A small caveat in a performance which more often showed maturity, grace and poetic insight, from the gentle melancholy of Ricordanza to the nocturnal mysteries of Harmonies du Soir.
In Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor Trifonov’s playing was powerful, dignified and grand, but never grandiose. Rachmaninov’s Chopin Variations – more suitable here than the originally scheduled Beethoven Op 111 sonata – were sparkling, with the slow eleventh variation and the theme’s final return particularly effective. Rachmaninov’s transcription of a Bach violin gavotte was an apt and charming encore.