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Daniil Trifonov plays with stupefying effortlessness / The New Yorker

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The Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov creates a furor. The term is a familiar one in the annals of super-virtuosity. "pianist creates furor" was a headline in the Times when Vladimir Horowitz first played at Carnegie Hall, in 1928. Paderewski left furor in his wake, as did Sviatoslav Richter, the young Martha Argerich, and the young Evgeny Kissin. Americans usually don't create a furor, at least on American soil. Russians are more prone to do so. It should be noted that a furor is not the same as a sensation. (Lang Lang creates a sensation.) Furor pianists exhibit intelligence as well as dexterity; they often make curious interpretive choices that cause head-shaking at intermission. They give a hint of the unearthly, the diabolical. They tend to walk onstage hurriedly and bashfully, with little ceremony, and usher in bedlam from unseen regions.

So far, Trifonov has done best in the high-virtuoso territory of Liszt, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff. His latest recording, on Deutsche Grammophon, is of Liszt's Transcendental Études, Concert Études, and Paganini Études. The Transcendental Études contain some of the most taxing piano writing ever put on paper: jagged chords strewn all over the keyboard, everywhere-leaping arpeggiated figures, pages of double octaves. Trifonov dispatches all of it with stupefying effortlessness, in the process transforming this ostensibly bravura music into something elegant and rarefied, almost French. He suggests how much Debussy and Ravel owed to Liszt. This is not the final word on the Études: on the Myrios label you can find a recording by Kirill Gerstein, another major, younger Russian-born pianist, which has a stronger sense of musical architecture. Still, Trifonov's entry will long be a benchmark.

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