Trifonov brings first-class artistry to Houston Symphony
Recently named Gramophone’s 2016 Artist of the Year, 25-year-old Daniil Trifonov has won major competitions and made several acclaimed recordings. Thursday night at Jones Hall, Trifonov sported a full beard that covered his youthful looks seen in publicity photos. On this program he performed Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducting the Houston Symphony.
This was an inspired rendition of the Schumann concerto, with Trifonov showing that he is clearly a thoughtful and captivating musician. His prodigious technique served the music while never seeking to draw attention to itself.
Trifonov’s first two entrances established the dynamic and emotional contrast that continued throughout the concerto. Intimacy and melancholy were expressed with exquisitely soft and delicate tones, including sensitive exchanges with oboist Anne Leek. The first violins responded with a cohesive and elegant tone. During heroic passages, Trifonov produced a volume of sound that equaled the full orchestra. In the coda, he displayed a trance-like focus that propelled the music to its stirring conclusion.
The second movement had Trifonov displaying colorful lyricism. In a duet with the flute the piano sang almost literally, and during an extended cadenza Trifonov even coaxed some organ-like tones. The cellos were beautifully expressive in one of Schumann’s most extended melodies.
Trifonov changed the mood in the third movement with rhythmically incisive playing. The prevailing compound meter provided a pulse of optimism for Trifonov and his colleagues. Orozco-Estrada and the Houston Symphony responded with a sensitive and superbly played accompaniment.
Some of Trifonov’s most extraordinary playing of the evening came during his encore, the Fairy Tale in F minor by Nikolai Medtner. Trifonov masterfully voiced this miniature, producing four layers of dynamics that created a three-dimensional effect. It was stunning in conception and execution.
Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 was performed after intermission. Andrés Orozco-Estrada is passionate in his interpretation of Romantic repertoire, though sometimes drawing mixed results. He set the symphony’s dark and brooding opening by drawing out the violas, French horns and English horn. He then led the violins to ever increasing heights of expression and volume, even where the music would have benefited from better pacing of the ebb and flow.
The Houston Symphony gave a virtuoso performanceof the Scherzo. Rhythms were well articulated in the fast sections, and a fugue, taken at breakneck speed, was brilliantly executed by the strings. At Orozco-Estrada’s urging, the orchestra provided sonically glorious playing in the contrasting expressive section.
A soft clarinet solo opens the third movement. Mark Nuccio seamlessly sustained the melody, sometimes by a single thread of sound. This theme, an intimate expression of love, gradually develops into a passionate expression. The climax is followed by a pause, then the main theme in a state of repose. Such universally shared emotions can be non-verbally expressed in music, and it was expertly done so here.
The fourth movement, a rousing and joyful finale, contains intricate syncopated rhythms. Orozco-Estrada conducted this movement at an uncompromising tempo, with the musicians rising to the challenge. The Houston Symphony has been in top-notch form under their music director and audiences continue to respond enthusiastically. Several musicians were recognized with solo bows during the standing ovation.
This program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. houstonsymphony.org.
Lawrence Wheeler is a violist, conductor and professor at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.