Thursday evening at Renzo Piano’s modern Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome, a program given of Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov’s music was marked by grace, musical distinction, and infectious excitement. The excitement was brought by the pianism of the young Daniil Trifonov, who astounded with profound and agreeable musicality in the Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor. Led by Andrea Battistoni and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the audience was treated to the fine musical collaboration of two flourishing young artists.

Daniil Trifonov © Vadim Shults
Daniil Trifonov
© Vadim Shults

Trifonov has made quite the impression since his arrival on the international circuit. His fastidious musicianship, profound sensitivities and virtuosic mechanism have earned the respect and attention of prominent musicians and audiences alike. According to Richard Rodzinski, General Director of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, “There is no showmanship. It is just wonderful, honest musicality. When he performs, he is communicating the music, the composer rather than ‘Daniil Trifonov’ the interpreter”. On the subject of interpretation and the composer, Trifonov himself states, “If you take Rachmaninov’s recordings, he was always changing the interpretations of his own works. He does many things that are not written in his own score. My teacher, Sergei (Babayan) told me that he’s seen Rachmaninov’s writing in the score, how he’s even changed hands in certain passages. So, there is always freedom for the performer. You should not, however, put yourself above the piece of music”.

And he is true to his words. Having heard the 21-year-old in February, this listener was moved by the quality of craftsmanship, the delicate control of the fingertips in lyrical passages, and the expressivity of his phrasing. Vladimir Horowitz considered Rachmaninov’s Third the most difficult Romantic concerto in the repertoire. Thursday, on the familiar steps of the opening phrase, Trifonov’s silken tone and palette were striking. The lyricism in the a tempo e un poco crescendo was agreeable, difficult to achieve and finely realized. And while the culmination of the ma un poco piu mosso offered a release of emotional tension, what must have caught the attention of every pianist in the room was the cadenza at the end of the first. Dense chords were here voiced with distinct line, color and beauty. Trifonov is not one to bang on the keys or incorporate extra-musical movement. He merely sits at his instrument and produces music by legitimate means, impressing with the seriousness of his musical approach and fidelity to the score.

Of note, the Finale was given at an exhilarating, aggressive tempo. The Lento brought attention to Trifonov’s distinguished ability to communicate, singing his vision with layers of color. The ensuing two pages of music revealed a high polish of piano technique: 32nd-notes were here voiced with delicacy and clarity. The pianist received seven curtain calls and offered two encores – the second, a Franz Liszt transcription of Robert Schumann’s Widmung.

Battistoni and orchestra delivered Rachmaninov’s Symphony no. 2 in E minor after intermission. They played handsomely, dazzling with sensible coloring, drive, and energy. Premiered February 1908 in St. Petersburg, the work is known to have exorcized the composer’s doubt – his confidence to write beautifully shattered by a lousy reception for his First Symphony, Op. 13, in March 1897. Thursday, the most convincing moments of the 55-minute performance were found in the widely popular Adagio. Rachmaninov’s celebrated melodic gifts were here treated for their emotional appeal, and a rich string section provided satisfying cantabile that was quite memorable and heartfelt. Battistoni weaved admirably the rich motifs in the Allegro vivace – the strings again offering rhythmic vitality and tender lyrical blending.