Stories » Daniil Trifonov's 'Rachmaninov Variations' Makes Iowa Public Radio's 2015 Mega-Meta-List

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Daniil Trifonov's 'Rachmaninov Variations' Makes Iowa Public Radio's 2015 Mega-Meta-List

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Today's output of classical albums is (pardon me while I scribble on the back of an envelope) something like triple what it was a generation ago. I won't vouch for that exact ratio, but I will for Anne Midgette's description of how it feels: "Keeping up with the stream of new releases is like trying to drink from a fire hose." Now imagine trying to capture a hose's jet-spray in a bucket, and you'll see why making a classical "best-of-year" list in 2015 struck many writers as a thankless task, even a hopeless one. Yet that didn't stop more of us than ever from trying - perhaps enough of us to be called a crowd. Could that crowd, taken together, have some kind of collective wisdom?

That was more or less the premise behind my "Classical Mega-Meta-List" last year (inspired by economist /blogger Tyler Cowen). I tallied every "best of year" list I could find - a total of 36, comprising about 100 writers.  This year I found far more: 64 lists, with at least 160 contributors, which makes this year's meta-list 60-77% more mega. It's not surprising that almost twice as many releases made the final cut, defined by being chosen for more than three best-of-year lists. Last year, 28 albums reached that threshold; this year, 50 albums did. That's a 78% increase.

Daniil Trifonov's 'Rachmaninov Variations' received more than 12 votes in this pole.

The other Russian-born pianist in the Top Five, Daniil Trifonov, is getting a doctorate in composition in Cleveland. To this recording of the complete variations by Rachmaninoff, he adds a composition of his own,Rachmaniana, making him one of several artists on the list who is breaking down the strict division between specializing in composing and specializing in performing. (That division didn't exist in Mozart's day, and Rachmaninoff was equally renowned in both spheres, as few artists were to be in the later 20th century.) As for the performing here, Trifonov is one of those magicians who can make the piano sound like it's coming from a transcendent sphere, but he is also a fluent musical thinker who conveys the play of Rachmaninoff's imagination.  It's a great recording, and the Philadelphia Orchestra is an example of an American orchestral renaissance.