At 23, Daniil Trifonov "has the world at his feet," as the Times of London pronounced, having won not just the Gold Medal at the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow but also the Grand Prix for the best competitor in any category. That honor was bestowed by Valery Grgiev in person, and the two went on to record a sensational Tchaikovsky First Cto. on the Mariinsky Orchestra's house label. But what made many listeners sit up were the solo encores that filled out the program, because they showed Trifonov's remarkable musical authority and ulra-refined touch as well as the expected prodigious technique.
He got to confirm those impressions at Carnegie Hall in Feb. 2012; DG points out that it has recorded Carnegie recitals for only two pianists up to now, Lang Lang and Mikhail Pletnev. The program emphasizes the pianist's ties to Russian music and Chopin.
Preludes (24), Op. 28
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178
Fairy Tale in E Flat major Op. 26 No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, Op. 19 'Sonata Fantasy'
In some ways time stands still in the Russian piano tradition - the same program could have been presented by Horowitz, Gilels, and Richter in their prime. If he is to join their exalted ranks, Trifonov needs to exhibit the strong personal profile that marks a musical superstar. Among the current Russian virtuosos, Denis Matsuev has conquered the world through a monumental technique, but his detractors accuse him of hammering (a criticism that did in Lazar Berman decades ago).
I'd venture to predict that Trifonov won't grow into a "personality" pianist, because as he markedly demonstrates in the Liszt B Minor Sonata and the Chopin Preludes, his focus is on the merging of musicality and showmanship while turning the spotlight away from personal quirks. What's at his command, quite remarkably, is the cumulative experience of the Russian romantic style in a modern, focused way. but it's a bit pointless to verbalize the effect of his playing, which is mercurial, sensitive, individual, and dazzling - the qualities I associate with the great Soviet virtuoso Grigory Ginzburg - whole never losing the wow factor of incredible technique.
Trifonov's success woes something to the excellent piano he's laying and the exemplary recorded sound from DG. Shortcomings? For some, Trifonov's liberal rubato and very free phrasing may feel self-indulgent. His soft playing at times becomes so reflective that he might be playing to himself too much. and the middle section of the Liszt wanders a little - it could use a stronger focus and through-line. But these are criticisms of an artist we're lucky to greet once in a generation - let's see what he grows into, which should be even more marvelous.
P.S. - Amazon should soon come up with a domestic disc at a reasonable price, but eager buyers can resort to online UK sources otherwise.