Daniil Trifonov demonstrated that his current ranking at the pinnacle of internationally acclaimed concert pianists is merited. In partnership with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Rafael Payare, his prowess dazzled in concertos by Schnittke and Prokofiev.

Daniil Trifonov and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito

The concert began with Valentyn Silvestrov's Prayer for Ukraine. In this orchestral transcription of a choral work, the string section established a pastoral and sombre mood. Having the flutists blow air through their instruments replicated the sound of a slowly rotated Whirly Tube, an effect that worked well in this piece, which seamlessly led into the Schnittke concerto.

Alfred Schnittke, a composer of Ukrainian and Jewish descent, lived in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. His 1979 Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra presents challenges which are more musical than technical in nature. Its single movement runs the gamut of styles, characterized by sudden and sharp contrasts in both harmony and dynamics. The emotional impact is analogous to coping with the weather in many a seaside town, changing abruptly and quickly. Trifonov's playing was both thoughtful and provocative. The OSM strings afforded themselves well, but their energy level at times paled beside those of the soloist.

Rafael Payare
© Antoine Saito

The first half of the program concluded with Dukas' La Péri, which was composed in 1912 for a one-act ballet. This evening's offering regrettably omitted the opening brass fanfare movement. With the exception of some minor balance issues, the piece was well handled, the laudable degree of transparency achieved by conductor Rafael Payare heightening the impact of this gem of French impressionistic style. The English horn and piccolo playing were particularly praiseworthy. The horn section came across well, particularly in climactic moments. Payare skillfully brought the tone poem to a stunning conclusion.

Following intermission Trifonov was nothing short of a tour de force in Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto, able to bring out expressive colours and articulations even in the most fiendishly challenging passages. The clarinet solo is the slow movement was beautiful. At the conclusion of the final movement, the orchestra regrettably overpowered the soloist. Nonetheless, the concerto was magnificently played and Trifonov was an absolute knockout.

Rafael Payare conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito

The evening finished with Debussy's La Mer where Payare's well-crafted interpretation revealed a maturity that is astounding for a conductor in his early forties. The important timpani part was adroitly handled. Principal trumpet Paul Merkelo's tone was strikingly vibrant, when playing muted as well as open. Some exquisite moments arose from the collaborations of the principal flute, oboe and clarinet. The final measures were riveting, thanks in no small part to the contributions of the percussion section.