San Francisco Music Preview: DANIIL TRIFONOV & MTT: RACHMANINOFF 4 (San Francisco Symphony)

by Tony Frankel on September 17, 2019

in Music,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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Daniil Trifonov is continuing his journey to honor and emulate his hero, the great Rachmaninov, by joining the San Francisco Symphony this weekend to perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, a golden opportunity since it’s rarely played often in concert halls. Preceding The Fourth, Michael Tilson Thomas — in his final & 25th season with SFS — leads the Orchestra in I Still Dance, a World Premiere by John Adams, one of America’s most celebrated and oft-performed living composers. Rounding out the program September 19-22, 2019, is Robert Schumann’s five-movement Symphony No. 3, The Rhenish, an optimistic and buoyant vision of the Rhine.

All it took was one live performance from Daniil Trifonov (dan-EEL TREE-fon-ov) to resoundingly validate for me why he is the current Big Thing of the piano world. The Liszt-like master’s rendition of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (followed by a jaw-dropping encore of Stravinsky’s Firebird for piano) convinced me that this is a pianist for the ages.

And as if I needed more validation, he was equally astounding setting fire to the ivories performing Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And it was the young master who kept me rapt during a recital with violinist Gidon Kremer. Then, combining flawless demonic skill with a fierce tenderness, his piano recital at Disney Hall was the greatest display of piano pyrotechnics I have ever seen.

On CD, he joined forces with the ever-wonderful Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, to bring us power-packed performances of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Rachmaniana, a short piece written as homage by Trifonov himself.

Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) wrote The Fourth in 1926, but it would be a couple of more years before he felt it ready for publication. While today it rather takes a backseat to the more popular Second and Third Concertos, it still exhibits its own merits. I was surprised at how much I liked the Fourth when I heard Trifonov’s release on CD, which is more sparely scored than Rach’s earlier concertos, and while there are moments that are reminiscent of the Romantic richness from earlier works, the effect here is altogether jazzier — Gershwin-like climactic moments in the outer movements especially — and propulsive in a way that resembles Prokofiev on a bullet train. The athletic Fourth Piano Concerto is a blend of American jazz, Russian folksong, Orthodox chant, and tonal Modernism.

You must see Trifonov live — he is as moved by the sumptuous romanticism as we are.

photos of Sept 19 concert by Grittani Creative LTD

MTT & Trifonov: Rachmaninoff & John Adams
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue
September 19-22, 2019
for tickets, call 415-864-6000 or visit SFS

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnson Wu September 27, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Does anyone know the encore piece Trifonov played Sunday afternoon?


Tony Frankel October 3, 2019 at 12:57 pm

Thursday — Scriabin’s Etude, Op. 42 No. 3; Friday — Scriabin’s Etude, op. 42 No. 4; Saturday — Trifonov performed his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise; Sunday — his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s The Bells Op.35, First movement The Silver Sleigh Bells.


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