Damian Thompson

The cult of Trifonov is doing the pianist no favours

The Deutsche Grammophon engineers have buggered up the his latest Rachmaninov recording

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Grade: B–

Deutsche Grammophon have decided that Daniil Trifonov’s new Rachmaninov piano concertos with the Philadephia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin are a railway journey. The video trailer offers no explanation — but, boy, they certainly threw some cash at their conceit. The pianist is dressed like a Russian anarchist, wandering wild-eyed through a railway carriage. Is he fleeing a ticket inspector? Apparently not, because later he’s playing on the train, presumably in the compartment reserved for grand pianos. Those were the days!

Last year we had the second and fourth concertos, entitled Destination Rachmaninov: Departure. Now it’s Arrival — the first and third. According to Nézet-Séguin, Trifonov’s playing is ‘beyond human comprehension’. No, it’s not, and this cult of Trifonov isn’t doing the 28-year-old any favours. His powerful fingers demonstrate a fierce intelligence — but that’s a problem. Although he can produce a whisper, those digits are made of steel and he’s too fond of using them to undergird his ideas about structure.

He does it in the darker of the two cadenzas Rachmaninov wrote for the Third Concerto. He starts with a crawl, then builds to a mighty climax. It’s thrilling, but unbalances the movement. Perhaps DG should release it as a single. I’m only half kidding. Yet again, the engineers have buggered up the balance between piano and orchestra, achieving the remarkable feat of muffling Trifonov. In the end I gave up trying to work out what he was trying to say: it was too much like listening through headphones on a noisy train.