Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Daniil Trifonov, Barbican review

Away from the nascent fascism, rising global anxiety and a nice day out protesting against Trump, and to the Barbican, for a classical piano recital. I read about Daniil Trifonov, a 25-year-old wunderkind, in the New Yorker and, after watching a couple of YouTube clips and reckoning he looked the biz, saw he was in town and bought a ticket. Not even very expensive. And the cocktail bar outside is quite nice and not overpriced either.

Not really my usual haunt, though, and it showed. At the interval I tried to buy a cocktail, but the barman told me they don't serve them in the break. "Why?" I asked, witlessly. "Do people get too lairy?" "No," he deadpanned. "It just takes too long to make them." What he didn't say, and fair play to him, was: No, you cretin, this is the Barbican, not Croydon High Street. People who come to the Barbican to watch classical music don't get lairy on one too many cocktails.

Anyway, as this anecdote obliquely shows, I don't know a mouse's morsel about classical music, so if you're hoping for some kind of knowledgable review of proceedings, you are likely to be disappointed. The nuances of how good Trifonov really is, what choices he made on interpretation and so on – the kind of things you might want in a review – are not really available to me. (You can try two wildly different reviews here and here.) In the absence of intelligent things to note, I settled mainly for trying to come up with some good metaphors as I watched him – from up in the gods – wave his fingers in front of the keyboard, and, in the first half, coax the romantic airs of Schumann from the grand piano. And then, as the Schumann went on, moved from coaxing to a kind of conjuring.

At other points he crouched over the piano like a teenager on his computer, and I, tired from staring down, moved my gaze to the rafters and instead of listening to the piano, just listened to the room. In a way, a room like the Barbican hall, with its exceptional acoustics, becomes the instrument, or at least an extension of the unmic-ed piano. Being January, however, the acoustic melange included a fair amount of coughing, and I suffered a few minutes wrestling with my tickling throat. (An important lesson for classical newbies here: always take a bottle of water.) And when I gazed back down to the stage, it suddenly looked as if Trifonov and his Steinway were a tiny musical box sitting on an oak table.

After the interval the programme shifted to 20th-century Russia (I know this because I bought a programme at halftime) and some of Shostakovich's preludes. A friend who is familiar with such matters had told me that this part would be hard work, and – the extent of my critique – I did find myself drifting, although that might have been the interval G&T. Before the second half began, someone had taken a mic to tell us that Trifonov would play an extra prelude – this brought gasps of excitement from the people next to me, which seemed a bit excessive – and it was good that he did, because the final one seemed to bring a new power and dynamism out of him. Suddenly, instead of conjuring, he was writhing, almost birthing the music through some long, complicated and exhausting labour. With this, and the Stravinsky that followed, Trifonov became more of the classical classical pianist, a whirl of technical prowess and bombast, nicely contrasting with the subtle grace of the first half.

I wouldn't say it was exactly wasted on me, but it was definitely partly wasted on me. Couple of the metaphors were alright though.

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