Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Trifonov: Try Phone Off.

One for the appropriate names department at the QEH last night. Daniil Trifonov, the 21-year-old Russian whizz-kid who has scooped top prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions and third in the Chopin, came to London for his South Bank recital debut, which duly blew our socks off. But music is as much about silence as about sound. In that great silence at the ultimate climax of the Liszt B minor Sonata, there it was, wouldn't you know it...the mobile going off.

And not off. It went on and on. The admirable TryPhoneOff wasn't remotely fazed, carrying on with aplomb as if nothing had happened. But for the rest of us, who had been following the narrative thread on the edge of our seats - for this Liszt was a fantastical Bulgakovesque page-turner - the timing could scarcely have been worse. It does scupper the experience to a large degree and there is no excuse except carelessness and, I'm afraid, plain old human stupidity. It's time for concert halls to introduce signal blockers at best, or bouncers in place of ushers at worst. Possibly both. Otherwise it can only be a matter of time before an audience group gets together to form a vigilante clique, perhaps with whips.

OK, so much for the phone. What of the Fon? Friends, please welcome a very major talent. He may be just 21, but Trifonov somehow makes me think of a taller, thinner, younger, embryonic kind of Sokolov-to-be. He's an old-school Russian, with that sense of colour and drama - as if the Liszt B minor Sonata and the Chopin Preludes are great narratives like The Master and Margarita or Anna Karenina itself: mighty struggles between good and evil, with, in the case of the Chopin, an apocalyptic conclusion balanced earlier by perfect songs-without-words and a deep sensitivity to the evanescence of absolute beauty. There's that Chaliapin-like phrasing, the breath strongest at the start of the phrase; there's an identification with the Russian sense of vastness, and a pride in it. He takes risks - as much with the softness he can evoke as with the juggernauts of octaves he can unleash when required. The Scriabin Sonata No.2 came out in three-dimensional textures, lit by a stained-glass window of synaesthetic luminous legato. There's an energy that crackles around him from the minute he steps on stage - as if he functions at a higher vibration level than most people.

The programme was cleverly chosen to show off his strength in fantastical, mercurial imagination; and in the encores he romped home to Russian territory with a Medtner Fairy Tale, a mind-busting transcription of the Infernal Dance from the Firebird by Stravinsky - something I've never heard on the piano before and don't anticipate hearing again anytime soon, given its challenges - and a little calm-down-dears extra piece to close that [UPDATE] has turned out to be a little something of his own.

Let's hope that Trifonov can sustain, guard and further develop his glorious pianism and sterling musicianship without the undoubted stardom he faces wreaking materialistic havoc. I'm an optimist in this case, and I think he can make it.