Jan. 12, 2018 | Tom Huizenga -- When we invited Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to play a Tiny Desk concert, we rolled out the big guns. In place of the trusty upright, we wedged a 7-foot grand piano behind Bob Boilen's desk in preparation for the artist who The Times of London called "without question the most astounding pianist of our age."
That's a pretty lofty claim, but watch and judge for yourself. His performance here is extraordinary. Still in his 20s, Trifonov seems to have it all: jaw-dropping technique and interpretive skills beyond his age. He's also a composer — the night before his NPR visit, he played his own knuckle-twisting piano concerto at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C.
But for his Tiny Desk show, Trifonov focused on Chopin, beginning with the mercurial "Fantaisie-Impromptu" in C-sharp minor, a work that mixes sweeping melody, turbulent passion and wistful repose. Hunching close over the keyboard with feline agility, Trifonov's slender fingers glide effortlessly. He coaxes the instrument to sing tenderly in the slow central section.
Trifonov follows with a pair of short tributes to Chopin by his peers. Robert Schumann's "Chopin" accentuates the lyrical side of Chopin, filtered through the German composer's forward-looking harmonies, while Edvard Grieg's "Hommage à Chopin" offers volatility, lovingly rendered.
The smartly programmed set is capped with more Chopin, but with a nod to Mozart: the finale from a set of variations based on an aria from Don Giovanni. It gives Trifonov a chance to display his lightness of touch, plus a few pianistic fireworks. Smiling, he treats the tricky filigreed runs and hand crossings as if it were a child's game. Look closely and you can see the piano shake.
(Daniil Trifonov appears courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon GmbH.)
Chopin: "Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66"
Schumann: "Chopin. Agitato" (from Carnaval)
Grieg: "Hommage à Chopin, Op. 73, No. 5"
Chopin: "Variations on 'Là ci darem la mano' (from Mozart's Don Giovanni) - Coda. Alla Polacca"
*(Selections found on the album Chopin Evocations.)
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Alyse Young; Assistant Editor: Alyse Young; Photo: Jenna Sterner/NPR