Daniil Trifonov dazzled, for sure, but at times he did slightly more than that. And when he did dazzle, it was always very musical dazzling; he is far from the empty dazzler one might expect so young a virtuoso to be. No – there’s no doubt that Trifonov is a highly intelligent musician, as well as a highly talented one, and there was much to enjoy in this varied programme for Wigmore Hall.

Daniil Trifonov © Roger Mastroianni
Daniil Trifonov
© Roger Mastroianni

While the primary attraction was Schumann’s enormous, magnificent Etudes symphoniques Op. 13, enough to fill the second half themselves, this was counterbalanced by a set of three early 20th-century pieces in the first half which were an eloquent testament to Trifonov’s ambition, if not quite yet his accomplishment. Stravinsky’s Serenade in A was a bold start, but Trifonov’s angsty, furrowed-brow-intense opening was far too much Rachmaninov-style passion and not enough Stravinskian detachment. This is a Neoclassical piece, after all, dating from 1925, and it’s strange to treat the first movement’s abrupt changes of dynamic and texture as a sort of high-Romantic emotional frenzy. The third movement, a “Rondoletto”, fared a lot better with Trifonov’s approach, with its taut rhythmic focus and pleasant Haydnesque energy – but overall this was Stravinsky playing without the icy cosmopolitan ambivalence the music really needs.

Debussy and Ravel followed – two of the former’s Images (both from Book 1) and four of the latter’s Miroirs. These pieces were where the dazzling dazzled most – the fleet, filigree textures of Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau were not just impeccably realised but also bursting with sensitivity, and he relished Ravel’s Une barque sur l’océan as the beautiful feast of texture that it is. But while this is piano music in which virtuosity is crucial, it needs careful shaping too, so that its ebbs and flows, its peaks and troughs can all break through the textures. Seldom did these pieces, short though they all were, hang together as single entities, although moment by moment, this was as good a performance as they come.

The Etudes symphoniques are, from one perspective, simply a succession of moments, though they too need to be drawn together. The piece is a set of variations, though all are also worthy of the term “study” thanks to their technical complexity. But unsurprisingly for Schumann, the archetypal Romantic under Beethoven’s spell, there’s more to it than this – as the title hints, there is a symphonic scope to the piece, and variations often continue without a break, tantalisingly leaving things unsaid or unfinished until the next one arrives. And it has the most elegant of shapes overall.

Trifonov added to the standard set three of the “posthumous études”, further related pieces Schumann eventually decided to omit, here inserted into various appropriate places along the way. The programme notes’ (surely rather patronising) implication that such meddling with the standard score should be attributed to pianists’ “youthful spontaneity” seemed thoroughly misplaced, as this youthful pianist had clearly thought the structure through very carefully. While the early movements had a bravura air to them, not too engrossing yet, in the later stages Trifonv proved his capacity for large-scale pacing very well indeed. The final few movements, including the interpolated posthumous étude no. 5, were a single, blissful plateau, so well earned after the rapid-fire work before. If the finale itself was disappointing, it’s tempting to blame Schumann for this rather than Trifonov, as the preceding movements are rapturous to a degree that it’s tough to shake off with a brisk march.

It’s clear what the fuss is about, then, with Trifonov: while much of his appeal does come from his phenomenal technical capacity, there’s a deeply impressive musicality to what he does which occasionally transcends this. While not all of this programme had me sold, I’ll be back for his next London recital, no question.