I had been greatly anticipating Daniil Trifonov’s concerto debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. I had just a couple of weeks earlier heard the pianist gave a ravishing and searing account of the composer’s 4th piano concerto with the Seattle Symphony, and had been looking forward to hearing Trifonov’s interpretation of the “Rach 3”.
It pains me to write that Trifonov’s performance with the Vancouver Symphony was a bitter disappointment for me – in fact, it took me this many weeks before I am able to put these brief thoughts to “paper”. From the outset of the performance, the haunting melody for the piano simply could not be heard. I could not blame it on where I was seating, as I had a seat in one of the relatively better acoustical area of the Orpheum. In fact, most of what Trifonov was doing could not be heard above the orchestra. Moreover, there was no semblance of collaboration between soloist and conductor, and music director Otto Tausk appeared to be simply trying to keep up with the pianist. In addition, there seemed to have been a lack of energy or passion, or a sense of direction, in Trifonov’s playing that evening. Even the many climatic moments of the work left me feeling underwhelmed.
Speaking of the Orpheum’s acoustics, I got chatting with a couple that sat beside me, who said they had just moved to Vancouver from London (England). At the conclusion of the concerto, the gentleman turned to me and said, “You really need a new concert hall in this city.”
Because of my disappointment at Trifonov’s Vancouver performance, I had been reluctant to put on his new recording of the same concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. I eventually did, and heard a stunning performance of the work. It was only in hearing Trifonov’s recording that I think I understood what he was trying to do in Vancouver. It seems to me that the pianist was not just another soloist out to impress, but was trying to weave the piano part of the concerto within the orchestral fabric in order to produce an organic whole. At all times, Trifonov took pains to bring out the intensely lyrical and spiritual qualities inherent in the music. It came off in the performance with the Philadelphians, but certainly not in Vancouver. Thrilling as the Philadelphia performance is, I found Trifonov’s performance of this concerto with Nézet-Séguin much more than a thrill ride, but an intensely moving musical experience. It was also a treat to behold the playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Nézet-Séguin, which seems to be once again playing with the lushness and beauty of sound (without sacrificing clarity of texture) as it did under Stokowski and Ormandy. I was reminded of Rachmaninov’s own statement that he used to compose with the sound of this orchestra in his mind.
I certainly hope Trifonov would grace Vancouver with his presence once again, perhaps in a performance by himself, as he did on several previous occasions. Perhaps he would feel more inspired to give us a performance that does full justice to his tremendous talent and artistry.