Trifonov Plays Shostakovich
by Joseph Horowitz
No other music so instantly evokes a sense of place as that of Dmitri Shostakovich. When Daniil Trifonov launched Shostakovich’s E minor Prelude at Carnegie Hall last week, the bleakness and exigency of Stalin’s Russia at once chilled the huge space. The Shostakovich affect can seem exotic or native, according to circumstance. I would say it today complements that part of the national mood concentrated in the Northeastern United States and 3,000 miles away on the West Coast.
Trifonov offered a substantial Shostakovich set: five of the 24 Preludes and Fugues composed in homage to Bach in 1950-51. This experience proved doubly revelatory. Comprising the Preludes and Fugues in E minor, A major, A minor, D major, and D minor, the sequence registered as a compositional achievement unsurpassed by other post-World War II composers for solo piano. And Trifonov’s readings were boldly individual. Shostakovich – a considerable pianist – favored a plain style. Trifonov’s style, with its emphasis on color and refined tonal liquidity, is remote from the composer’s.
The D major Fugue, in particular, was barely recognizable. Shostakovich composed a sharp, acerbic Allegretto. Trifonov here produced a Prestissimo blur, an arresting, elusive impressionistic cameo.
The D minor Prelude and Fugue is the titanic capstone to Shostakovich’s 24. Shostakovich’s recording is dry and imperious. Trifonov’s reading is Lisztian: Romantically plastic, generously pedaled. It was the charged high point of the evening.
The remainder of the program was standard: a Schumann first half; Stravinky’s Petrushka to close. I know Carnegie has to sell tickets – but this young pianist may have acquired a following ready for anything. It has been years since I encountered a New York audience – the hall was packed – as absorbed in a purely musical experience. There is nothing exceptional about Trifonov’s hair or attire. He is neither glamorous nor notorious. At the age of 25 he is already embodies a species become rare: a major concert pianist. He also composes.
What comes next for this young man? Aside from my son, I noticed no listeners approximately the pianist’s own age. A decade hence, will Daniil Trifonov fill Carnegie Hall? And what will be be playing? The marginalization of classical music accelerates apace.
PS: PostClassical Ensemble’s Shostakovich-Weinberg festival this March includes another boldly individual pianist: Alexander Toradze, in Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto. Edward Gero of the Washington Shakespeare Theatre will play Shostakovich. We will have occasion to compare Shostakovich’s official pronouncements of the 1930s and ‘40s with what he later had to say about his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. To see Ed Gero as the younger Shostakovich, and find further information on the concerts, click here.