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Trifonov and Kremer in Charm City

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M. Weinberg, Symphony No. 10 (inter alia), Kremerata Baltica, G. Kremer
(ECM New Series, 2014)
While Daniil Trifonov has dazzled in solo recital, the Russian pianist's appearances with orchestras, most recently with the NSO, showed the same daring but not always a natural aptitude in ensemble situations. This did not augur well for Trifonov's local debut as a chamber musician, at Shriver Hall on Sunday night, doubts that were borne out in an otherwise intriguing selection of music performed with violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė.

There were no questions about Trifonov's technical accomplishment, although what he did with the first piece, Mozart's slender D minor fantasia (K. 397), was not really about that. Faced with a lack of technical challenge, Trifonov pushed and pulled the music in every which direction, with enigmatic and slow arpeggiation followed by a poignant rendition of the tragic arioso, the contrasting sections shifting moods on a dime. Kremer, who was last in Baltimore ten years ago (but with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2011), did similar things with Mieczysław Weinberg's second solo violin sonata, op. 95. Each of the seven short movements received a different emphasis of tone: a deliberate, even clumsy straightness in Monody, frenetic sawing attacks in Interval, a gorgeous vibrato-heavy sound in Repliques, and a fragile deference in Accompaniment. Kremer hit his stride in the last two movements, producing that full-throated biting sound in the intense, even strident Invocation and giving a folk-flavored fiddle drive to the final movement, Syncopations.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Gidon Kremer, Daniil Trifonov in brilliant form at Shriver Hall (Baltimore Sun, January 21)

Niels Swinkels, Kremer and Trifonov Deliver Rewards with Challenging Program (San Francisco Classical Voice, January 18)

Mark Swed, Gidon Kremer shares a performance of a lifetime (Los Angeles Times, January 15)
Schubert's C major fantasy, D. 934, is a bear of a piece, especially for the pianist, most recently heard from James Ehnes and Orion Weiss last year. Trifonov was astounding from a technical point of view, although ensemble challenges like balances and a shared rubato were not always in hand. He achieved some remarkable lightness of tone, although not everywhere he needed to do so, while Kremer floated on his arching lines in the first movement, although his high flautando sound was a little perilous at times. There was one moment in the second movement that sounded like a misalignment, although the duo quickly recovered from it, but the variations were sentimental in nature, without turning overly sappy.

The low point of the concert was Rachmaninoff's Trio élégiaque No. 2 (D minor, op. 9), a youthful work composed just after hearing the news of Tchaikovsky's death. The performance was appropriately steeped in gloom, with songful playing from Dirvanauskaitė, but the obsessive repetition of motivic cells in the melodic themes of the first movement, for example, made me wonder if the popularity of Rachmaninoff's music might not be due to the same qualities observed in successful pop songs. The theme at the heart of the middle variations movement is truly banal, and the qualities the composer harps on in each variation did not make things any better. The piece is centered almost exclusively on the keyboard pyrotechnics, and at this Trifonov excelled. Two encores rewarded strong ovations: a Scherzo by Shostakovich (the second movement from the second piano trio, I think), and the second of Rodion Shchedrin's Three Funny Pieces, titled Let's Play an Opera by Rossini.

The fine season at Shriver Hall continues next month with a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet (February 15, 5:30 pm), playing music by Haydn, Schulhoff, and Schubert.

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