Vassily Petrenko and Daniil Trifonov are an oddly contrasted pair of Russians: Petrenko stands ramrod straight on the podium, his gestures dramatic but always fluid, as if he'd been called upon to demonstrate exemplary posture as well as exemplary conducting. With his high Slavic cheekbones and definable air of authority, he might be a benign version of Lermontov's Hero Of Our Time. Trifonov, on the other hand, seems authored by Dostoyevsky, his scraggly hair bouncing around his scalp and his torso almost reaching into the keyboard, he could easily be mistaken for Crime And Punishment's Svidrigaïlov, buttonholing some unfortunate in a St Petersburg tavern.

Daniil Trifonov © Dario Acosta
Daniil Trifonov
© Dario Acosta

But however different, when these two artists combine with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the only response is to offer superlatives. This was music-making of real power and force, the kind you always hope to find in the concert-hall, and those who were in attendance at Symphony Hall tonight struck lucky. 

Trifonov is already being talked of as the outstanding pianist of his generation and on the evidence of his account of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 4 in G minor, it is easy to see why. He tore into the opening Allegro vivace with a rare sense of risk-taking abandon, his fingers tapering across the keys and his whole body seemingly involved with the music. He has that rare thing – a strong and distinctive musical personality – that makes its mark without being at all overbearing or ingratiating; nor does he trade in 'charisma' or the charm that often puts gilt on an above-average talent. In the climax to the first movement, he and Petrenko combined to create one of those thrilling moments where time seems to stand still; and yet Trifonov proved that his naturally ebullient personality could also encompass the plaintive yearning of the central Largo movement before high-tailing it through the barn-storming finale. An encore of one of the same composer's Preludes left an ecstatic audience hungry to hear more.  

After that, the performance of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony could easily have been anti-climatic, yet it was anything but. The sheer corporate force of the horn and brass sections combined with the sensitivity of the strings and woodwind made for a memorable Andante opening, for this is a work in which hard and soft elements uneasily co-exist. The gargantuan conclusion of this first movement, with the orchestra delivering one of the most decisive 'exclamation marks' I've ever heard, stunned even some seasoned concertgoers into spontaneous applause. The Lieutenant Kijé-like frolics of the succeeding Allegro marcato were just as convincing, but the orchestra surpassed itself with its coldly sensual rendering of the recurring string theme in the Adagio, the violins wantonly caressing the notes, until suddenly interrupted by the march that derails the movement hallway through. More measured than it is often played, this was perhaps the only point of controversy in Petrenko's interpretation, but it hardly detracted from the overall achievement.

The concert had opened with another rarely-heard work, Stravinsky's Jeu de cartes. The RLPO got maximum effect from this darkly comic piece of programme music, with the participants – Queen, Hearts, Clubs and villainous Joker – all vividly characterised. The programme will be repeated in Liverpool this week. If you can get there, I urge you to go.